Known as the “Lady with the Lamp” Florence Nightingale has gone down in history as one of the most famous Victorians thanks to her efforts in the Crimean War and pioneering as one of the best nurses the world has ever seen.
Born on the 12th May in 1820 in Florence Italy, she was the youngest of 2 children in an affluent family which were of a high social standing in Victorian Britain. Unlike her parents Florence was said to be quite awkward in social situations and preferred the attention away from her. She would often fall out with her mother who was quite controlling over the strong willed Florence Nightingale. Her Father was a wealthy land owner who provided her with a top class education that most Victorian children could only dream of which included studies in German, French and Italian.
Deciding to become a Nurse
From a young age Florence was active in philanthropy helping to look after the poor and ill in the villages around her families land. At just 16 she had already decided that she wanted a career in Nursing and felt that she was truly meant to follow it to the fullest. On telling her parents the strictly forbid her from following the career, as young girls were expected to marry their way into another rich family of equally important social status. Being a nurse was seen as a lower class job which would be looked down upon from the upper classes. At just 17, much to her family’s dismay she turned down a marriage proposal from a wealthy gentleman in pursuit of her Nursing career. Florence Nightingale enrolled herself as a student at the Lutheran Hospital in Germany.
In the 1850s she returned to London and took a job looking after old and ill governesses at a Middlesex Hospital. She impressed her employers so much that she was quickly promoted within just a year to a superintendent, but she did not know at this time there would be a massive outbreak of cholera and unsanitary hospital conditions to deal with. She made it her mission to improve the practices at the hospital, but in doing so was slowly working herself into the ground with her dedication. Her biggest challenge though was just around the corner.
Work in the Crimean War
It was 1853 and the Crimean War had just started. The Victorian British Empire was at war with the Russian Empire and thousands of British Soldiers were sent to the Black Sea. Supplies were quickly running out, soldiers were getting injured and ill with around 18,000 having to go to military hospitals within just a year.
The Secretary of War Sidney Herbert sent a letter to Florence Nightingale asking her to assemble a team to help with the injured and ill. She headed up a team of nurses responsible for improving the awful conditions for the injured at a British base Hospital in Constantinople. The conditions were awful, beyond anything that Florence Nightingale and her team had ever expected. Patients lay in their own excrement throughout the hallways and rats and disease were spreading throughout. Many of the soldiers were dying from diseases picked up in the Hospitals rather than the injuries that had picked up in battle.
She quickly set about cleaning the hospital head to toe and helping patients one by one at all hours. She was very compassionate and won the hearts of many of the soldiers given the name “The Lady with the Lamp” because of the lamp she used while making her rounds and “The Angel of the Crimea”.
Her efforts helped to reduce the amount of deaths by around two thirds and her knowledge and teachings were responsible for a reform of the health care system the world over. She went on to establish the St. Thomas Hospital in 1860 and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. She quickly became a figure of public admiration the world over with young women aspiring to be just like her. This led to many upper class women deciding to dedicate themselves to the nursing profession. Nursing was no longer seen as a bad job, but an honourable career for the upper classes.
At the age of 38 years old Florence Nightingale had contracted “Crimean Fever” which made her bedridden in her home, which she would never recover from. Still determined to the cause she would work from her bed helping to improve the healthcare system in Britain and indeed the world. For many more years she would work with leading health officials from her bed at her home in Mayfair. She published “Notes on Hospitals” and was frequently consulted by British, American and Indian officials to help with the running of their hospitals. In 1910 at the age of 90 she fell ill and died unexpectedly at her home at London.