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Florence Nightingale: 7 Rare and Amazing Facts To Know

Florence Nightingale, named Lady with the Lamp, was born May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy. She was an English social reformer, statistician, and the founder of modern nursing.

1. The Early Life of Florence Nightingale

1.1 Family

The rich and prominent British family that gave birth to Florence Nightingale on May 12, 1820, at the Villa Colombia in Florence, Tuscany, gave her the name Florence Nightingale. Frances Parthenope, Florence’s older sister, was also named for her birthplace, Parthenope, a Greek village that is now a part of Naples.

Florence Nightingale was raised in the family’s estates in Embley, Hampshire, and Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, after the family moved back to England in 1821.

Florence Nightingale birthplace
By: Jonathan Körner/ Unsplash Copyright 2016

Florence Frances Nightingale’s parents on both sides of the family established a liberal and humanitarian attitude.  Her parents were Frances (“Fanny”), Nightingale (née Smith; 1788-1880), and William Edward Nightingale, sometimes known as William Edward Shore (1794-1874).

According to the conditions of Peter Nightingale’s will, William inherited his land at Lea Hurst and took on the name and arms of Nightingale. William’s mother, Mary (née Evans), was a niece of Peter Nightingale.

An abolitionist and Unitarian, William Smith was Fanny’s father and Florence’s paternal grandfather. Her father educated Nightingale. Her father took the family on a tour of Europe in 1838, where Florence met the English-born Parisian hostess Mary Clarke and formed a strong bond with Florence Nightingale.

Although her opinions did not always align with those of her guests, she was described as a lively hostess who did not care about her beauty and who “was incapable of boring anyone.” She was reportedly aggravating and quirky, with little regard for upper-class British ladies, whom she saw as generally unimportant.

1.2 Personal Life

Nightingale wrote that, given the option, she would prefer the freedom of the galleys over being a woman. She preferred to hang out with male intellectuals and generally avoided female companionship.

However, Clarke made an exception in the Florence and the Nightingale family case. Even though they were 27 years apart in age, she and Florence remained close friends for 40 years. Florence had not learned from her mother the notion that women might be on an equal footing with men, but Clarke proved it.

Florence Nightingale was praised for being lovely, thin, and graceful as a young woman. She was described as being quite charming and having a beautiful smile while having a frequent stern demeanour.

1.3 Famous Suitors

The politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes was her most persistent suitor. Still, after a nine-year romance, Florence Nightingale turned him down because she thought marriage would prevent her from pursuing her calling as a nurse.

Florence Nightingale met Sidney Herbert, a politician and former Secretary of War (1845–1846), in Rome in 1847 while he was on his honeymoon. He and Nightingale grew to be good friends for life.

During the Crimean War, Herbert would serve as secretary of war once more, and he and his wife would play a crucial role in facilitating Florence Nightingale’s nursing work there.

Florence Nightingale became Herbert’s principal advisor for the duration of his political career. However, some have said that her reform agenda’s strain on Herbert contributed to his death from Bright’s disease earlier than expected in 1861.

Much later, Florence Nightingale developed a close relationship with Professor Benjamin Jowett, who may have thought about proposing to her.

Her writings, particularly those about Egypt, serve as evidence of her knowledge, creative talent, and personal philosophy.

1.4 Writings

Florence Nightingale wrote about the Abu Simbel temples after sailing up the Nile to Abu Simbel in January 1850: “Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering … not a feature is correct — but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined.

It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”

As opposed to her much longer letters that her older sister Parthenope would print after her return, she wrote in her diary about being “called to God” at Thebes and about being “called to God” a week later near Cairo: “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.”

Florence Nightingale later travelled to Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein, Germany, where she visited the Lutheran religious community and witnessed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses caring for the ill and the less fortunate.

Florence Nightingale saw the encounter as a turning moment in her life and published her conclusions under an assumed name in 1851. Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, for the Practical Training of Deaconesses, etc., was her first published work.

Florence Nightingale also received four months of medical training at the institute, which formed the basis for her later care.

2. Crimean Warp War

Lady with the Lamp,” by Florence Nightingale, gained notoriety for her work during the Crimean War. Nightingale and her group of 38 volunteer nurses were despatched to the Ottoman Empire after the British government was made aware of the appalling circumstances for injured soldiers at a military hospital in Scutari, outside Constantinople.

2.1 Famous Contribution

Britain and France supported the Ottoman Empire as they entered the war with Russia.

Florence Nightingale was brought to the Ottoman Empire on October 21, 1854, with the assistance of a staff of 38 volunteer women nurses, including her chief nurse Eliza Roberts, her aunt Mai Smith, and 15 Catholic nuns (activated by Henry Edward Manning).

Nightingale was helped in Paris when travelling by her friend Mary Clarke. The Crimean city of Balaklava is located about 295 nautical miles (546 km; 339 mi) from the main British camp across the Black Sea.

Nightingale discovered that there were many deaths because the medical personnel were overworked and lacked supplies and hygienic conditions.

The British government ordered a prefabricated hospital, Renkioi Hospital, which had a significantly lower fatality rate than Scutari, in response to a request from The Times.

Conditions at Scutari were improved by Nightingale’s adoption of sanitary practices and the Sanitary Commission’s presence, which resulted in a dramatic drop in death rates.

Nightingale’s performance in the Crimean War was criticized in films broadcast by the BBC in 2001 and 2008 and in several follow-up articles written in The Guardian and the Sunday Times.

These objections, according to Nightingale expert Lynn McDonald, are “frequently ridiculous,” she claims, and are not substantiated by the main sources.

After her time at Scutari, Nightingale became an advocate for sanitary living arrangements and the implementation of sanitation in working-class homes.

2.2 Cold War With Mary Seacole

According to some secondary sources, Florence Nightingale, the famous nurse, and Mary Seacole, another nurse who ran a hotel/hospital for officers, had a somewhat cold relationship. Seacole’s memoir records only one friendly meeting with Nightingale, during which she asked for a bed for the night, and Nightingale obliged.

However, Seacole was rebuffed when she tried to join Nightingale’s group, and she believed that racism was at the root of the rejection.

Nightingale privately expressed concern to her brother-in-law about contact between her work and Seacole’s business, claiming that Seacole made many people drunk and caused improper conduct.

However, Seacole told a French chef that Nightingale was very fond of her. When two waves of Irish nuns, the Sisters of Mercy, arrived to assist with nursing duties at Scutari, Nightingale’s responses were different.

Ahead of the first wave, Mary Clare Moore placed herself and her sisters under Nightingale’s authority, and the two became friends for life.

However, the head of the second wave, Mary Francis Bridgeman, refused to give up her authority over her Sisters to Nightingale and did not trust her, as she regarded Nightingale as ambitious.

During the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale gained the nickname “The Lady with the Lamp” from a phrase in a report in The Times:

She is a “ministering angel” without any exaggeration in these hospitals. As her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sickness, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.

— Cited in Cook, E. T. (1913). The Life of Florence Nightingale. Vol. 1, p. 237.

The phrase was further popularized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s 1857 poem “Santa Filomena“:

Lo! In that house of misery
A lady with a lamp, I see
Pass through the glimmering gloom,
And flit from room to room.

3. Late career

Florence Nightingale, a British social reformer and statistician, is famous for her work in the field of nursing. 1855 the Nightingale Fund was established to recognize her work during the Crimean War.

She had £45,000 at her disposal from the Nightingale Fund to set up the first nursing school, the Nightingale Training School, at St Thomas’ Hospital on 9 July 1860. The first trained Nightingale nurses began work on 16 May 1865, and the school is now part of King’s College London.

Florence Nightingale wrote the book “Notes on Nursing” in 1859, which served as the cornerstone of the curriculum at the Nightingale School and other nursing schools. It is considered a classic introduction to nursing and sold well to the general reading public.

Nightingale spent the rest of her life promoting and organizing the nursing profession. One of Nightingale’s significant achievements was the introduction of trained nurses into the workhouse system in Britain from the 1860s onwards.

This meant that sick paupers were no longer being cared for by other, able-bodied paupers but by properly trained nursing staff. Before her reforms, nurses were usually former servants or widows who found no other job and therefore were forced to earn their living through this work.

Nightingale advocated autonomous, secular nursing school leadership and that her new style of matrons had full control and discipline over their nursing staff. However, some doctors felt that these new-style Nightingale matrons were challenging their authority.

This was not an isolated episode, and other matrons experienced similar issues. Nightingale’s work served as an inspiration for nurses in the American Civil War. The Union government approached her for advice in organizing field medicine.

Florence Nightingale’s ideas inspired the volunteer body of the United States Sanitary Commission. Nightingale was not opposed to the theory of infection for her entire life, as is sometimes claimed.

A 2008 biography says that she was simply opposed to a precursor of germ theory known as contagions. This theory held that diseases could only be transmitted by touch.

Before the experiments of the mid-1860s by Pasteur and Lister, hardly anyone took germ theory seriously, and even afterwards, many medical practitioners were unconvinced.

Nightingale was stubborn, opinionated, and forthright but had to be those things to achieve all that she did. Hospitals were places of last resort where the floors were laid with straw to soak up the blood, and Nightingale transformed nursing when she returned from Crimea.

She had access to people in high places and used it to get things done.

4. Relationships

Nightingale thought that women lacked the same capabilities as men and needed sympathy, even though much of her work significantly improved the lives of women everywhere.

She criticised early women’s rights campaigners for complaining about women’s supposed lack of professional opportunities at the same time that lucrative medical positions, overseen by Nightingale and others, were empty on a protracted basis.

“I have never found a woman who has adjusted her life by one iota for me or my beliefs,” she said, asserting that strong men had done more than women to assist her in achieving her goals.

She frequently used the male pronouns “a man of action” and “a man of several describes herself”.

She did, however, develop a number of significant and enduring connections with women. She worked in Crimea alongside Irish nun Sister Mary Clare Moore, with whom she maintained a long connection later in life.

Mary Clarke, an Englishwoman she met in Paris in 1837 and remained in contact with throughout her life, was her most cherished confidante.

Several researchers who study Nightingale’s life think that she was chaste throughout her life, possibly because she felt a religious calling to her profession.

5. Death

At the age of 90, Florence Nightingale passed away peacefully in her sleep in her room at 10 South Street in Mayfair, London, on August 13, 1910.

She was buried in the churchyard of St. Margaret’s Church in East Wellow, Hampshire, next to Embley Park, with a plaque bearing only her initials and date of birth and death after her relatives declined an offer of a burial at Westminster Abbey.

grayscale photography of gray tombstone
By: Fey Marin/ Unsplash copyright 2019

She left behind a sizable amount of work, including several hundred previously unpublished notes. Francis William Sergeant erected a memorial to Florence Nightingale in Carrara marble in the cloister of the Church of Santa Croce in Florence, Italy 1913.

6. Contributions

6.1 Statistics and Sanitary Reform

Florence Nightingale, a renowned nurse and social reformer, was a gifted mathematician and a pioneer in the visual representation of information and statistical graphics.

Nightingale was able to show complex data in a simple form for people to grasp, thanks to statistical visuals, such as the pie chart and the polar area diagram. She presented reports on the state of medical care during the Crimean War using these drawings. At the time, Nightingale’s use of visual pictures to communicate data was new.

6.2 Literature and the Women’s Movement

Nightingale is a key figure in the study of English feminism while being better renowned for her work in nursing and mathematics. Throughout the course of her life, she produced almost 200 books, pamphlets, and essays.

She battled with her self-definition and her family’s expectations of an upper-class marriage between 1850 and 1852. She penned Recommendations for Consideration to Searchers after Religious Truth as she was organizing her thoughts.

Cassandra” criticizes the over-feminization of women into a state of near helplessness, a trend Nightingale saw in the sluggish lifestyles of her mother and older sister despite their education. She chose the field of social work over their careless luxurious lifestyle.

The artwork also reveals her worries that her ideas may fall flat, much like Cassandra’s did. During the Trojan War, Cassandra, a princess of Troy, worked as a priestess in the temple of Apollo.

a close up of a typewriter with a paper on it
By: Markus Winkler/ Unsplash copyright 2020

She was given the ability to prophesy by the deity, but when she turned down his advances, he cursed her, causing her warnings to be disregarded. Elaine Showalter hailed Nightingale’s writing as “an important English feminist text, a connection between Wollstonecraft and Woolf.”

6.3 Theology

According to Nightingale, true religion should show itself through proactive concern and love for others.  Ideas for Thinking, her own theodicy in which she developed her heterodox ideas, is a theological treatise she produced.

Nightingale believed in universal reconciliation, which holds that even those who pass away without being saved will eventually reach Paradise, and questioned the goodness of a God who would send people to hell. She occasionally used this perspective to console the people under her care.

For instance, while being cared for by Nightingale, a dying young prostitute expresses her fear of going to hell by pleading with God to spare her from the anguish she is experiencing.

7. Legacy

Nightingale’s lasting contribution has been her role in founding the modern nursing profession. Many nursing institutions and hospitals were set up after her name. There are three statues of Nightingale in Derby.

Florence Nightingale’s voice was saved for posterity in a phonograph recording from 1890 preserved in the British Library Sound Archive.

The first theatrical representation of Nightingale was Reginald Berkeley’s The Lady with the Lamp, premiering in London in 1929 with Edith Evans in the title role. Her character was played numerous times in TV and Films.

Her image also appeared in banknotes. While she was reluctant to take photographs and portrait images, she also has a rare photograph discovered in 2006. The first biography of Nightingale was published in England in 1855.

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