Nightingale, Florence

Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, on 12 May 1820, and was raised mostly in Derbyshire, England. She received a comprehensive classical education from her father, William, who believed women, especially his children, should get a proper education. At the age of sixteen she was sure that God was calling her to serve others and she used her spare time to learn from nursing books she had surreptitiously obtained. She went abroad to study the European hospital structure in 1849, and in 1850 she began training in nursing at the Institute of Saint Vincent de Paul in Alexandria, Egypt.

Following this, she studied at the Institute for Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth, Germany, and in 1853 she became superintendent of the Hospital for Invalid Gentlewomen in London. She was an innovator in the collection, tabulation, interpretation, and graphical display of descriptive statistics.

In 1854, after having served a year as unpaid superintendent of a London “establishment for gentlewomen during illness,” the Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert, recruited Nightingale and 38 other nurses for service in Scutari during the Crimean War. She set out for Usküdar and, under her supervision, efficient nursing departments were established at Ushüdar and later at Balaklava in the Crimea.

Whilst serving at Scutari, she collected data and systematized record-keeping practices. Nightingale was able to use the data as a means to improve city and military hospitals. Her calculations of the mortality rate indicated that with an improvement of sanitary methods, numbers of deaths would be reduced. As Nightingale demonstrated, statistics provided an organized way of learning and lead to improvements in medical and surgical practices. She also developed a Model Hospital Statistical Form for hospitals to collect and generate consistent data and statistics. In 1858 she became a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and an honorary member of the American Statistical Association in 1874. Karl Pearson acknowledged Nightingale as a “prophetess” in the development of applied statistics.

At the end of the Crimean war in 1860, with a fund raised in tribute to her services, she established the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses at Saint Thomas’s Hospital in London. This school’s opening marked the beginning of professional education in nursing. Nightingale’s contributions to the evolution of nursing as a profession were invaluable.

Before she undertook her reforms, nurses were mainly untrained staff who considered their job an unskilled and tedious chore; through her hard work the prominence of nursing was raised to a medical profession with high standards of education. She received many honours from foreign governments. She became the first woman to receive the British Order of Merit in 1907.

Whilst walking the halls of the battlefield hospital, she used to carry a lamp and became known as the “lady with the lamp”. She saved thousands of lives. People called her a ministering angel in the hospitals. She herself fell ill with a disease she contracted there. During the Civil War, the United States asked her advice about setting up military hospitals.

She is most remembered as a pioneer of nursing and a reformer of hospital sanitation methods. For most of her ninety years she gave her all to the medical well being of her fellowmen.

Nightingale died in London on 13 August 1910. The Crimean Monument in Waterloo Place, London, was erected in her honour in 1915. Her writings include: Notes on Nursing (1860), the first textbook for nurses, which was translated into many languages; Notes on Hospitals (1859); and Notes on Nursing for the Labouring Classes (1861).