The Life of Florence Nightingale – Libraries | UAB

Florence nightingale education

Lea HurstLea Hurst, the summer home of the Nightingale familyFlorence Nightingale was born in 1820 to wealthy English parents traveling in Florence, Italy. Both Florence and her sister were named after the Italian cities in which they were born – her sister Parthenope was born in Naples and given the Greek name for its ancient city. At home in England, the Nightingales divided their time between two houses, Lea Hurst in Derbyshire for the summer and Embley in Hampshire for the winter. The two girls were educated by their father, and Florence, in particular, excelled academically. With regard to the marriage and social life of their daughters, the Nightingales held high expectations. However, Florence had other ideas, because as a teenager in 1837 she received a “divine calling” to do God’s work, which sparked her advocacy of social and health care causes and eventually led her to establish nursing as a distinct profession.

Theodore FliednerPastor Theodore Fliedner, founder of the Lutheran deaconesses training center for nurses in Kaiserwerth, GermanyThe period between the later half of the 17th century and the middle of the 19th has been described by medical historian Fielding Garrison as the “dark age” of nursing. Nurses in those days were typically poor, unskilled and often associated with immoral behavior (1). The hospitals they served held equally low reputations as unclean, disorderly, and infection breeding. They were often regarded merely as places to die. So it is not difficult to see why Florence Nightingale’s family, wealthy and respectable as they were, discouraged her from selecting this “unsuitable” profession. But Florence went against her parent’s wishes, refused a prospective marriage and in 1851 trained as a nurse in Kaiserswerth, Germany at Pastor Theodore Fliedner’s hospital and school for Lutheran deaconesses. Fliedner’s school was one of the earliest institutions for the proper training of nurses outside of the Catholic religious orders (2). In 1853 Nightingale went for additional training in Paris with the Sisters of Mercy (3). After her return to England, Florence took a position as superintendent for London’s Establishment of Gentlewomen during Illness in 1853.

(click here for a letter written by florence nightingale to mrs james on september 20, 1853, regarding patient admission, payment, demographics, and length of stay at the ladies gentlemen’s establishment London during an illness).

nursing during the crimean war

Florence Nightingale bustBust of Florence Nightingale, presented to her by the soldiers after the Crimean WarFlorence Nightingale is probably most famous for her work during the Crimean War (1854-1856). Responding to unpopular newspaper reports of the horrendous situation in the English war camp hospitals, Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, a personal friend of Nightingale, consented to let her organize and manage a group of female nurses to go to Turkey. On November 4, 1854, Nightingale and 38 nurses arrived in Scutari, the location of the British camp outside Constantinople. The doctors originally did not welcome the incoming female nurses, but as the number of patients escalated, their help was needed in the overcrowded, undersupplied, and unsanitary hospital (4). Under Florence’s leadership, the nurses brought cleanliness, sanitation, nutritious food and comfort to the patients. Nightingale was known for providing the kind of personal care, like writing letters home for soldiers, that comforted them and improved their psychological health. Her group of nurses transformed the hospital into a healthy environment within six months, and as a result, the death rate of patients fell from 40 to 2 percent (5). In 1857, Florence returned home a heroine. It was the soldiers in Crimea that initially named her the “Lady with the Lamp” because of the reassuring sight of her carrying around a lamp to check on the sick and wounded during the night, and the title remained with her (6).

(34 years to date (November 4, 1888)) After landing at Scutari for the Crimean War’s Battle of Inkermann, Florence Nightingale wrote a letter to her friend Thomas Gillham Hewlett recalling the heroic nature of the soldiers. Click here to view this letter.)

on his return from the crimean war, he devoted the next few years to the royal commission investigating health in the british army. it was his discussions with Queen Victoria about the conditions of the camp hospitals that prompted the formation of the commission. moreover, nightingale’s statistical data and analysis strongly influenced the commission’s findings, resulting in major advances in British Army public health (7).

pioneer in professional nursing

during the war, a public subscription fund was established for florence nightingale to continue her nursing education in england, and the nightingale training school in st. thomas’ hospital opened in 1860. the education of recruits involved a year of practical instruction on the wards, supplemented by reading courses, and followed by two years of hospital work experience (9). After graduation, many of the students worked in British hospitals and others spread the Mockingbird education system to other countries.

through her work and school, florence nightingale is responsible for elevating the nursing profession to an honorable status. she also wrote about 200 books, pamphlets, and reports on hospitals, sanitation, and other health-related topics, as well as contributing to the field of statistics (10). Throughout her life, she provided advice on a variety of healthcare issues to associates around the world. Although she was ill and bedridden for much of her later life, the Nightingale managed to carry on her great work through correspondence.

final notes

  1. garrison, deploy. an introduction to the history of medicine. 4th ed. (Philadelphia and London: W. B. Saunders, Co., 1929), 772.
  2. ibid.
  3. porter, roy. cambridge illustrated history of medicine (new york: cambridge university press, 1996), 226.
  4. selanders, luisa. “florence nightingale.” encyclopaedia britannica online: scholarly edition (, accessed 5 May 2011.
  5. porter, roy. cambridge illustrated history of medicine (new york: cambridge university press, 1996), 226.
  6. Florence Nightingale Museum website (, accessed 5 May 2011.
  7. selanders, luisa. “florence nightingale.” encyclopaedia britannica online: scholarly edition (, accessed 5 May 2011.
  8. ibid.
  9. tooley, sarah a. the history of nursing in the british empire (london: s. h. bousfield & co., 1906), 96.
  10. Florence Nightingale Museum website (, accessed 5 May 2011.

Related Articles

Back to top button