The Lady with the Lamp: Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale was born on 12th May 1820 in Florence, Italy.  Her parents William Edward Nightingale born William Edward Shore, and Mother Frances Nightingale.

William’s mother was the niece of Peter Nightingale, and upon his death, he left his entire estate at Lea Hurst in Derbyshire to William Shore as it was then.  Under the terms of the will he assumed the name and arms of Nightingale.

In February 1837 while staying at Embley Park, one of the family homes, Florence believed she had received a calling from God, to devote her life to the service of others.  This was to cause much distress for her mother and Francis her sister.  For it was expected of her to become a wife and mother … not a servant.  For it was not the expected thing at that time for affluent English women to do.

Against her family wishes she educated herself in the science of nursing, her family may not have approved, but nothing was going to stand in her way.  She believed it had been a calling from God who had set her on this path, and she was doing his will.  Nothing nor anybody was going to stand in her way. 

In 1847 she contacted the former Secretary at War; Sidney Herbert and they were to become lifelong friends.  When he became the new Secretary at War at the time of the Crimean War, he and his wife assisted Florence in undertaking nursing in the Crimea.

Nightingale travelled to Greece and Egypt in 1850 and in her writings referred to the beauty of the Nile.  She was overcome by the sheer beauty, and what buildings and temples stood for, and how they related to the common man.

Upon her visit to Thebes, she wrote in her diary of being called to God, to undertake his work.  Later that year, she visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth – am – Rhine in Germany.  Whilst there had the opportunity of seeing Pastor Theodor Fliedner, and his deaconesses tending the sick and deprived.

From that time forth her life changed dramatically.  She was to receive four months of medical training, whilst at the institute.  She also went on and published a work: The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine for the Practical Training of Deaconesses.

For it was Florence Nightingale took up the post of Superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street on 22nd August 1853.  A post which she would hold until October 1854, for it was no more than a stepping stone of grander things to come.

Florence Nightingale was destined to make a name for herself during the Crimean War; her name would go down in history.

When news reached Britain of the poor conditions, she knew her time had come, and stepped forward accordingly.  On 21st October 1854, she took 38 nurses, 15 Catholic Nuns to the Crimea.

Nightingale’s team of helpers, arrived at Selimiye Barracks in November 1854, and found soldiers suffering, limited medical supplies, hygiene if any.  Then coming face to face, with military officials, who saw her as nothing more than an interference.

Nightingale made a plea to The Times, asking the government to provide a solution to these poor conditions.  This led to the construction of pre-fabricated hospitals designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  The final result was Renkioi Civilian Hospital, under Dr.Edmund Alexander Parkes.  Nightingale intervention saw the death rate drop from 42% to 2% by improving hygiene standards.

The Times nicknamed her; The Lady with the Lamp, and it stuck.  When the medical staff had retired for the night, and silence and darkness hovered across the wards.  Soldiers remembered Florence Nightingale offering comfort, by visiting each and every patient.

On the 29th November 1855, the Nightingale Fund was established, its aim to train nurses, for war work and beyond.  Thousands of pounds were donated to the fund.

On the 9th July, the Fund had set up the Nightingale Training School at St.Thomas Hospital, and the first batch of fully trained nurses, started work on 16th May 1865 at the Liverpool Workhouse infirmary.

One of Nightingale’s achievements had been the introduction of qualified nurses into England’s workhouses, thus the sick were treated by trained nurses.  Her work served as an inspiration for nurses, her name would never be forgotten.

During the American Civil War, the Union Army asked for her advice, nursing in the field.  They rebuked her suggestions, but a volunteer body; United States Sanitary Commission was formed.

In the 1870’s, Nightingale mentored Linda Richards; she became America’s first fully trained nurse, and went on to become a nursing pioneer in the USA.

In 1882 several Nightingale nurses had become matrons at St.Mary’s Hospital, Westminster Hospital, Royal Victoria Hospital, and it had become a growing trend across the country.

Florence Nightingale was to receive awards for her work at home and in the field:

1883 Royal Red Cross

1904 Lady of Grace of the Order of St.John

1907 Order of Merit

1908 Honary Freedom of the City of London

She did have several important friendships, which meant a lot to her.  An Irish Nun, Sister Mary Clare Moore, with whom she worked in the Crimea.  Mary Clarke an English woman she met in 1837.  In both cases it is said, she kept up a prolonged correspondence which lasted till her end.

On 13th August 1910, aged 90, Florence Nightingale died peacefully in her sleep.  Her grave can be found at St.Margaret’s Church, East Well, Hampshire.

She had never wanted popularity; she just fought for better medical standards.  She became a pioneer in the world of nursing, and offered better hygiene standards for all, in our hospitals.

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