Florence Nightingale(1820 - 1910)


Florence Nightengale is mostly known for her radical innovations in nursing care. She was a pioneer in nursing and a reformer of hospital sanitation methods.

Born into a wealthy and well-connected British family at the 'Villa Colombaia' in Florence, Italy, she was named after the city of her birth, as was her older sister (named Parthenope for the old city that is now Naples). A brilliant and strong-willed woman, Florence rebelled against the expected role for a woman of her status, which was to become an obedient wife.

Inspired by what she understood to be a divine calling (first experienced in 1837 at the age of 17 at Embley Park and later throughout her life), Nightingale made a commitment to nursing, a career with a poor reputation and filled mostly by poorer women. Traditionally, the role of nurse was handled by female "hangers-on" who followed the armies; they were equally likely to function as cooks or prostitutes. Nightingale was particularly concerned with the appalling conditions of medical care for the legions of the poor and indigent. She announced her decision to her family in 1845, evoking intense anger and distress from her family, particularly her mother.

In December 1844, in response to a pauper's death in a workhouse infirmary in London that became a public scandal, Nightingale became the leading advocate for improved medical care in the infirmaries and immediately engaged the support of Charles Villiers, then president of the Poor Law Board. This led to her active role in the reform of the Poor Laws, extending far beyond the provision of medical care.

In 1846 she visited Kaiserwerth, a pioneering hospital established and managed by an order of Catholic sisters in Germany, and was greatly impressed by the quality of medical care and by the commitment and practises of the sisters.

In 1851 she rejected the marriage proposal of politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, against her mother's wishes. Convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing, Nightingale continued to reject his proposal.

Florence Nightingale's career in nursing began in earnest in 1851 when she received four months' training in Germany as a deaconess of Kaiserwerth. She undertook the training over strenuous family objections concerning the risks and social implications of such activity, and the Catholic foundations of the hospital. While at Kaiserwerth, Florence reported having her most important intense and compelling experience of her divine calling.

On August 12, 1853, Nightingale took a post of superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London, a position she held until October 1854. Her father had given her an annual income of £500 (roughly $50,000 in present terms) that allowed her to live comfortably and to pursue her career.

Her most famous contribution was during the Crimean War, which became her central focus when reports began to filter back to Britain about the horrific conditions for the wounded. On October 21, 1854, Nightingale and a staff of 38 women volunteer nurses, trained by Nightingale and including her aunt Mai Smith, were sent to the Crimea, with the authorisation of Sidney Herbert.

She arrived early in November 1854. In Scutari (modern-day Üsküdar in Istanbul, Turkey) Nightingale and her nurses found wounded soldiers being badly cared for by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference. Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected, and mass infections were common, many of them fatal. There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

Nightingale and her compatriots began by thoroughly cleaning the hospital and equipment, and reorganizing patient care. Although she met resistance from the doctors and officers, her changes vastly improved conditions for the wounded and by April dropped mortality rates by 40 per cent to just two per cent.

When she first arrived in the Crimea, she travelled on horseback making the inspections, she then transferred to a mule cart, and was reported to have escaped serious injury when it was toppled in an accident. Following this episode she used a solid Russian-built carriage, with waterproof hood and curtains. The carriage was returned to England after the war and subsequently given to the Nightingale training school for nurses, which she founded at St Thomas's hospital. The carriage was damaged when the hospital was bombed in the Blitz. It was restored and transferred to the Army Museum in Aldershot.

Reportedly she treated 2,000 patients herself. She also contracted Crimean Fever. She is remembered today because of the compassion, care and administrative skills that she introduced to the profession of nursing, to patient care and to the maintenance of medical records.

Nightingale's work inspired massive public support throughout England, where she was celebrated and admired as "The Lady with the Lamp" after the Grecian lamp she always carried in her tireless evening and night-time visits to injured soldiers. Nightingale's lamp also allowed her to work late every night, maintaining meticulous medical records for the hospital, and writing personal letters to the family of every soldier who died in the hospital. The depth of her commitment to the care of her patients in Crimea earned her the everlasting respect and affection of the common soldier.

On November 29, 1855, a public meeting to give recognition to Florence for her work in the Crimea led to the establishment of the Nightingale Fund, to raise funds for training of nurses and there was an outpouring of generous donations. Sidney Herbert served as the honorary secretary of the fund, and the Duke of Cambridge was chairman.

By 1859, Florence had £45,000 at her disposal from the Nightingale Fund to set up the Nightingale Training School (now called the Nightingale School of Nursing) at St Thomas' Hospital on July 9, 1860. The first trained Nightingale nurses began work on May 16 at the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary. She also campaigned and raised funds for the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital in Aylesbury, near her family home.

Florence Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing which was published in 1860, a slim 136-page book that served as the cornerstone of the curriculum at the Nightingale School and other nursing schools established. Notes on Nursing also sold well to the general reading public and is considered as a classic introduction to nursing.

Nightingale spent the rest of her life promoting the establishment and development of the nursing profession and organizing it into its modern form. Her influence extended around the world--throughout the United Kingdom, to the United States in Civil War time, to India.

In 1883 Queen Victoria awarded Florence Nightingale with the Royal Red Cross and in 1907 she became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit. In 1908 she was given the Honorary Freedom of the City of London. She could not leave her bed after 1896 and died on August 13, 1910. The offer of burial in Westminster Abbey was declined by her relatives, and she is buried in the graveyard at St. Margaret Church in East Wellow, England.

Florence Nightingale's lasting contribution has been her role in founding the nursing profession, and in the shining example she set for nurses throughout the profession of commitment to patient care and hospital administration. There is a Florence Nightingale Museum in London.

There are countless examples of Florence Nightingale's continuing legacy in the nursing profession that she founded, from the continuing work of the Nightingale School of Nursing and throughout the entire field of nursing education and medical records. ---(Biography abridged from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia)

It is no surprise the Florence Nightingale, the great lover of suffering humanity, revolted at the idea of eternal torment. Of nursing, she said,

"Nursing is an art: and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter's or sculptor's work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God's spirit? It is one of the Fine Arts: I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts."

In regard to God, and the traditional church doctrine of Hell, Florence Nightingale had this to say:

"I can't love because I am ordered. Least of all can I love One who seems only to make me miserable here to torture me hereafter. Show me that He is good, that He is loveable, and I shall love Him without being told.

But does any preacher show this? He may say that God is good, but he shows Him to be very bad; he may say that God is 'Love', but he shows him to be hate, worse than any hate of man. As the Persian poet says; ‘If God punishes me for doing evil by doing me evil, how is he better than I?’ And it is hard to answer, for certainly the worst man would hardly torture his enemy, if he could, for ever. And unless God has a scheme that every man is to saved for ever, it is hard to say in what He is not worse than man; for all good men would save others if they could…

It is of no use saying that God is just, unless we define what justice is. In all Christian times people have said that ‘God is just’ and have credited him with an injustice such as transcends all human injustice that it is possible to conceive."


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