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THE MOST INFLUENTIAL WOMAN IN VICTORIAN BRITAIN AFTER QUEEN VICTORIA HERSELF
Famous for being the `Lady with the Lamp' who organised the nursing of sick and wounded soldiers
during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale's far-sighted ideas and reforms have influenced the very
nature of modern healthcare.
Her greatest achievement was to transform nursing into a respectable profession for women and in
1860, she established the first professional training school for nurses, the Nightingale Training School at
St Thomas' Hospital.
She campaigned tirelessly to improve health standards, publishing over 200 books, reports and
pamphlets on hospital planning and organisation which are still widely read and respected today,
including her most famous work "Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not".
Florence's influence on today's nursing, ranges from her ward designs (known as Nightingale Wards)
which were developed in response to her realisation that hospital buildings themselves could affect the
health and recovery of patients, through to pioneering infection control measures and the championing
of a healthy diet as a key factor for recovery. Florence also believed in the need for specialist midwifery
nurses and established a School of Midwifery nursing at King's College Hospital which became a model
for the country.
Florence is also credited with inventing the pie chart and was the first woman to be elected to the Royal
Statistical Society. She was also the first woman to be awarded the Freedom of the City of London,
which she received in 1909.
She inspired the founding of the International Red Cross which still awards the Florence Nightingale
Medal for nurses who have given exceptional care to the sick and wounded in war or peace.
Born in an era when middle-class women were expected to simply make a good marriage and raise a
family, Florence sensed a `calling' from God at an early age and believed she was destined to do
something greater with her life. As a child, she was very academic and particularly interested in
mathematics. Her religion gave her a strong sense of moral duty to help the poor and, over time, she
held a growing belief that nursing was her God-given vocation. She was also perhaps set to follow the
family tradition of reform mindedness, such as the example set by her maternal grandfather who was
an anti-slavery campaigner.
Paid nursing suffered a reputation as a job for poor, often elderly women, and the popular image was
one of drunkenness, bad language and a casual attitude to patients. Despite parental concern, she
persisted in her ambition, reading anything she could about health and hospitals. Eventually she
persuaded them to allow her to take three months nursing training at an inspirational hospital and
school in Dusseldorf. Aged 33, she then became superintendent of a hospital for `gentlewomen' in
Harley Street, London.
THE CRIMEAN WAR
In March 1854, reports flooded in about the dreadful conditions and lack of medical supplies suffered
by injured soldiers fighting the Crimean War. The Minister at War, a social acquaintance, invited
Florence to oversee the introduction of female nurses into the military hospitals in Turkey. With a party
of 38 nurses, Florence arrived in Scutari that November and set about organising the hospitals to
improve supplies of food, blankets and beds, as well as the general conditions and cleanliness. The
comforting sight of her checking all was well at night earned her the name "Lady of the Lamp", along
with the undying respect of the British soldiers.
The introduction of female nurses to the military hospitals was deemed an outstanding success,
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Florence returned to Britain a heroine and donations poured in to the Nightingale Fund. The money
collected enabled Florence to continue her reform of nursing in the civil hospitals of Britain after the
war. Determined that the medical mistakes of the two-year long war were never repeated, she vividly
communicated the needs for medical reform using statistical charts which showed that more men had
died from disease than from their wounds.…read more
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Florence Nightingale in the
Military Hospital at Scutari
Throughout the Middle Ages, religious orders performed the role of caring for the sick and poor. The
Sisters of Mercy order, which still exists today, was set up in the 1830s by the Roman Catholic Church in
Dublin. It became known throughout the world for its work in caring for the sick and elderly.…read more
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Portrait of Florence Nightingale
How did she become well known?
Florence Nightingale's big opportunity came when the Crimean War broke out in 1854. The British Army
suffered horrific losses from the new exploding shells and from lack of medical support. The Secretary
at War, who knew the Nightingale family, asked her to go to the Crimea to take charge of the hospital at
Scutari in Turkey.…read more