Florence Nightingale: Remodeling the Pillars of Society

And here we go, let’s start this next week with a woman who has reformed one of the pillars of our society: Florence Nightingale. 📝

Florence Nightingale is seen as the founder of modern nursing and the embodiment of a nurse. In her life little over 200 years ago, she helped to bring change to the healthcare system and improve it drastically. Her ‘Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery’ (now a department at King’s College) is still one of the highest ranking nursing schools in the world. 💉

With the advantage of growing up in a family that supported women’s education, especially her father who would support her throughout her whole life, she was able to take that path in her life. First she turned to statistics, where she gathered information to support her writing, that eventually revolutionized the medical system. 🥼🩺

Find out more about the way she helped improve the medical system with her work in the article below!

Florence Nightingale | *12-05-1820 | † 13-08-1910 | Italy | Nurse, Social Reformer, Mystic, Statistician

A little over 200 years ago, Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was born, who is seen as the embodiment of a nurse and as the founder of modern nursing. She is also known for being a social reformer and mystic. In May 1820 Florence was born into a wealthy and well-connected British family and she was named after the city she was born in, Florence, like her sister Parthenope. In 1821 she, her sister and her parents moved back to England, where they lived in Hampshire and Derbyshire. There, Florence was educated by her father. A BBC documentary about Florence tells us about the advanced idea that Florence’s father had about education for women: Florence and Parthenope studied history, mathematics, Italian, classical literature, and philosophy. Florence turned out to be very smart and was the more academic one of the two sisters. She was able to collect and analyse data, which would be useful in her later life. She would become a pioneer in data visualisation and used infographics and graphical presentations of statistical data to make her point.  Florence was also a writer: in her work she tried to spread medical knowledge, some of it in simple English so that it could also be understood by those with lesser or poor literacy skills. Much of her work, including work about religion and mysticism, was published after her death. 

In 1838 Florence and her family toured Europe and in Paris Florence met Mary Clarke, with whom she bonded fast. Clarke almost always rejected female company and spent time with male intellectuals. Upon meeting the Nightingale family, she made an exception and Clarke and Florence would become and remain friends for over 40 years. It was Clarke who demonstrated to Florence that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence’s mother had not spoken to Florence about. Florence’s mother and sister expected Florence to become a wife and mother, but Florence wanted to become a nurse. 

After several ‘calls from God’, as Florence called it, in 1837, she decided to become a nurse in 1844. The calls from God prompted a great desire within Florence to devote her life to helping others. Against the opposition from her family and the societal pressure for women at that time, she studied hard and educated herself on the science of nursing. In 1850 she visited the Lutheran religious community in Germany, where the pastor and deaconesses were taking care of the sick and deprived. There she received four months of medical training. Many think Florence saw this experience as a turning point in her life and she wrote a book about it, anonymously, in 1851, which was her first published work called “The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, for the Practical Training of Deaconesses”, etc. In August 1853, Florence was appointed the post of superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in London, where she worked until October 1854. Her father sponsored her. 

During the events of the Crimean war, which lasted from October 1853 until February 1856, Florence and other volunteer nurses and nuns were sent to the Ottoman Empire. She arrived there in November 1854 and found an overworked medical staff. There was a short supply of medicine and hygiene was neglected, which led to infections, some of them fatal. By improving hygiene with implementing handwashing and other practices, together with calling for the Sanitary Commission, some people asserted that Nightingale reduced the death rate from 42% to 2%. This influenced Florence’s later career, where she reduced peacetime deaths in the army and turned her attention to the sanitary design of hospitals and the introduction of sanitation in working-class homes. During the Crimean war, Florence got the nickname The Lady with the Lamp because of a phrase in The Times: 

´She is a “ministering angel” without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and 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 sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds. ´ 

In 1855 the Nightingale Fund was used to set up the Nightingale Training School to provide training for nurses. The fund was established to thank Florence for her work during the war. There were a lot of donations. Now called the “Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery”, Florence started training nurses in 1860. Many Nightingale Nurses, as they were called, ended up as matrons in big and leading hospitals. For her hard work, Florence was the first to receive the Royal Red Cross in 1904 and the first woman to receive the Order of Merit in 1907. In 1910 Florence died peacefully in her sleep, at the age of 90. Many of her notes were published after her death and to this day she is remembered as a pioneer in the nursing field and a marvellous woman, inspiring many nurses to this day.


Author: Sanne Akkermans
Image: Jess Sweeny


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