Pursuing a career in nursing was looked down upon by the society at that time, especially for someone with an affluent background. After much opposition, Florence announced her decision to enter the field in 1844.
She enrolled herself as a student at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserwerth, Germany. She then worked hard to educate herself in the art and science of nursing.
On her trips to Egypt and Paris, she realized that disciplined and well- organised nuns or sisters made better nurses than women in England. When she returned home she started visiting hospitals in London, Edinburgh and Dublin. In 1853, she was appointed Superintendent of the Hospital for Invalid Gentlewoman.
In October 1853, the Crimean War broke out. A large number of British soldiers were sent to the front and by 1854 around 18000 soldiers were injured and admitted into military hospitals. Nightingale received a letter from Secretary of War, Sidney Herbett - both eventually became very good friends - requesting assistance from her nurses to tend to the soldiers. She assembled a team of more than 30 nurses and sailed to Crimea immediately.
The condition of the soldiers there was much worse than expected. When they reached Scutari, the soldiers were in a horrible state due to the lack of proper sanitation and unhygienic surroundings. The medicine supply was little and the death rate was on an all time high.
Nightingale quickly got to work and tried to lower the death rate. Apart from the basic sanitary precautions, she also improved the quality of their stay in the hospital.
The war was over by March 1856. An estimated 94000 men were sent to the war front, out of which almost 4000 died of battle wounds, 19000 died of diseases and 13000 were invalidated out of the Army.
Florence returned to England as a national hero but she was deeply shocked by the mass death that took place right before her eyes because of poor sanitation. Therefore, she was determined to begin a campaign that would improve the quality of nursing in military hospitals. She started investigating before the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army and that resulted in the formation of the Army Medical College.
In 1855, the Nightingale fund was set up to open up a training school for nurses. By 1860, �50,000 had been collected and The Nightingale School and Home for Nurses was established at St. Thomas Hospital. She could not be the superintendent because of her ‘Crimean fever’ but she closely watched the progress of the institution.
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When the Indian Mutiny broke out in 1857, she wished to come to India and help improve the sanitation facilities. Even though she could never come, she played an instrumental role in getting a Sanitary Department established by the Indian government.
Even when she was resting at home, she was still very much active in reforming and improving the health care system, interviewing politicians and distinguished visitors from her bed.
Personal Life & Legacy
Though she was very attractive, she chose to remain a spinster as she believed marriage would hamper her calling. She had a relationship with a politician and poet, Richard Monckton Milnes that lasted for nine years but it did not lead to marriage.
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She was very good friends with Sidney Herbert, Secretary of War and both were instrumental in the success of each other’s career.
She had a deep relationship with Benjamin Jowett who wanted to marry her.
She died peacefully at the age of 90 in South Street Park, London in August 1910.
The Nightingale Building in the School of Nursing and Midwifery at the University of Southampton has been named after her.
International Nurses Day is celebrated every year on her birthday.
Many hospitals and museums have been named after her and a number of statues have been erected in her memory.
Nightingale was represented by Reginald Berkeley in his theatrical production ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ which premiered in London in 1929.
The president of India gives away the National Florence Nightingale Award every year on the occasion of the International Nurses Day - May 12th.