“How very little can be done under the spirit of fear” – Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale rejected a life of ease or notoriety. Leaving behind thoughts of marriage, children or her aristocratic upbringing she went to work as a nurse. In the early eighteenth century, such a vocation for a ‘lady’ was unheard of. Believing she was called to this mission field she went on to become the founder of modern nursing and one of the most influential women in the British Empire, second only to Queen Victoria. Due to her commitment to do the work God called her to do, hospitals procedures greatly improved, nursing became a respectable profession, schools were established, and countless lives were saved.
Florence Nightingale was born in Florence (hence her name) Italy on 12 May 1820. Her father, William E. Nightingale, was a wealthy landowner who had inherited an estate in Derbyshire, England. Like many members of the upper class, he and Florence’s mother, Fanny, dedicated themselves to the pursuit of active social lives. Florence, however, was a devout Christian and at 17 felt God was calling her to serve him. At first Florence was not sure how God wanted her to serve but by 1844 she was convinced she was to nurse the sick.
Her decision met with the disapproval and disgust of her mother and sister. In this, she rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status, which was to become a wife and mother. Nightingale worked hard to educate herself in the art and science of nursing, in spite of opposition from her family and the restrictive societal code for affluent young English women.
She went to Kaiserwerth in Prussia to experience a German training program for girls who would serve as nurses. She worked briefly for a Sisters of Mercy hospital near Paris.
When the Crimean War began, reports came back to England about terrible conditions for wounded and sick soldiers. Florence Nightingale volunteered to go to Turkey, and at the urging of a family friend, then secretary of state at war, she took a large group of women as nurses. Thirty-eight women, including 18 Anglican and Roman Catholic sisters, accompanied Florence Nightingale to the warfront.
Florence found military hospitals were unsanitary with thousands of soldiers dying of diseases. She worked extreme hours to bring order and cleanliness to the hospitals and became a heroine to the British public. They raised 45,000 pounds (a small fortune at the time) to help her.
Returning to Britain in 1856, she was commissioned to investigate the living conditions of British soldiers in peacetime. In 1858 she published her findings as Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army.
In 1860 Florence Nightingale opened the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St Thomas Hospital. She greatly raised standards of nursing. Every probationer who entered the school was interviewed by Florence and supervised by her. In old age Florence Nightingale suffered from ill health and she went blind. By the mid-1890s Florence was an invalid. She was awarded the Order of Merit in 1907. Florence Nightingale died on 13 August 1910.
Her unwavering commitment to her calling was commendable. She actively avoided fame or fortune and persevered tirelessly suffering persecution and horrific conditions. To this day she is held in the highest regard globally by those in the medical fraternity.
After her death nurses throughout the world wanted to pay tribute to her, and the Florence Nightingale Foundation was formed to carry on the work of educating nurses. It continues to operate near St. Thomas Hospital in London.