Inspiring Thursday: Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Florence Nightingale, was born in May 12, 1820. She was an English pioneer nurse, statistician, and social reformer who was the foundational philosopher of modern nursing. Nightingale was the first woman awarded the Order of Merit in 1907.

Florence Nightingale was in charge of nursing British and allied soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War. She was also known as “Lady with the Lamp”, due to the fact she spent many hours in the wards,  doing night rounds and giving personal care to the wounded. “That early image of Florence Nightingale, tending to wounded soldiers in the darkness with her lamp, has endured for so many nurses, for so many years, and takes on renewed significance as May 12 marks the 200th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth. It also marks International Nurses’ Day, commemorated in Nightingale’s honor.” (Times, 2020)

Her efforts to formalize nursing education led her to establish the first scientifically based nursing school—the Nightingale School of Nursing, at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London (opened 1860). She also had an important role in setting up training for midwives and nurses in workhouse infirmaries.  From a very young age, Florence Nightingale was active in philanthropy, ministering to the ill and poor people in the village neighbouring her family’s home. By the time she was 16 years old, she discovered her passion for nursing. When Nightingale approached her parents and told them about her ambitions to become a nurse, they were not pleased. Indeed, her parents forbade her to pursue nursing. During the Victorian Era, a young lady of Nightingale’s social statues was expected to marry a man of means, instead of taking up a job that was viewed as lowly menial labor by the upper social classes.

In spite of her family reservations, Nightingale was eventually able to enrol at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswenrth in Germany for two weeks of training in July 1850 and again for three months in July 1851. There she learned basic nursing skills, the importance of patient observation, and the value of good hospital organisation. In 1853 Nightingale sought to break free from her family environment. Later she became the superintendent of the Institution for Sick Gentlewomen (governesses) in Distressed Circumstances, in London, where she successfully displayed her skills as an administrator by improving nursing care, working conditions, and efficiency of the hospital. After one year she began to realize that her services would be more valuable in an institution that would allow her to train nurses. She considered becoming the superintendent of nurses at King’s College Hospital in London. However, politics, not nursing expertise, was to shape her next move.

Even though Nightingale was mostly remembered for her accomplishments during the Crimean War, Nightingale’s greatest achievements are deeply related to the efforts in creating a social reform in health care and nursing. On her return to England, Nightingale was suffering the effects of both brucellosis and exhaustion. In September 1856 she met with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to discuss the need for reform of the British military establishment. Nightingale kept meticulous records regarding the running of the Barrack Hospital, causes of illness and death, the efficiency of the nursing and medical staffs, and difficulties in purveyance. A Royal Commission was established, which based its findings on the statistical data and analysis provided by Nightingale. The result was marked reform in the military medical and purveyance systems.

Florence Nightingale was honoured in her lifetime by receiving the title of Lady of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and by becoming the first woman to receive the Order of Merit. On her death in 1910, at Nightingale’s prior request, her family declined the offer of a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey. Instead, she was honoured with a memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Florence Nightingale is truly an inspiration!

Written by WAVE intern : Mariana Cunha