Historical Figures

Florence Nightingale, Nursing Pioneer

English Nurse, Florence Nightingale (1820 – 1910) is considered a pioneer of modern nursing.

The flu epidemic

Born May 12, 1820, Florence Nightingale was the second daughter of Frances Fanny Smith and William Edward Shore, a couple from British high society. His first name comes from his birthplace:Florence, Italy, where the family is passing through for a two-year trip. At the end of 1820, the family returned to England and settled in a large estate in Hampshire, Embley Park.

Florence was educated by her parents, who taught her French, German, Italian, Latin, Greek, history and philosophy. Member of the Unitarian Church, which advocates service to the community, the Nightingale family finances medical care for the poor inhabitants of the surroundings and, young, Florence becomes aware of the living conditions of the disadvantaged populations. When she was seventeen, the region was hit by a flu epidemic which spared the young girl. She then devotes herself for weeks to the sick people around her, providing them with care and support. During this episode, she feels a sort of revelation, or calling, writing in her journal, "God has spoken to me and called me into His service."

The vocation for the care of the sick

In 1839, following the stay of a cousin studying mathematics, Florence Nightingale launched herself into the study of this discipline and obtained a tutor. She particularly excels in statistics. Alongside her studies, she led the social life of high society families between visits and balls; she will notably meet Charles Darwin and Ada Lovelace, mathematician and first programmer in the history of computing. In 1844, she met the American doctor Samuel Gridley Howel, to whom she spoke of her wish to become a nurse, as well as her fear that this choice would be inappropriate for a person of high society. Samuel Gridley Howel then encouraged him to follow his vocation. The death of patients in British hospices, through lack of care or incompetence, pushed her to commit to improving medical care and the creation of nursing training.

In the summer of 1845, Florence announced to her parents her intention to become a nurse, to train herself in the hospital and then to found a care establishment. Her parents oppose her a categorical refusal, which they renew a few months later when she reiterates her request. She did not cease, however, to take an interest in the medical community, to visit hospitals in England and Italy, and to read books and reports on public health. She also travels a lot, in Italy, in Greece, in Egypt, where she again feels a divine call. In Germany, in Kaiserswerth near Düsseldorf, she visited a hospital run by deaconesses, who impressed her with the quality of care provided.

Finally, medical studies

In 1851, Florence Nightingale's parents finally allowed her to train in three months at the Kaiserswerth hospital and the young woman learned there how to treat wounds, prepare medicines and take care of patients. This experience confirmed her in her vocation. She drew her first book from it:The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, for the Practical Training of Deaconesses . Florence then left to complete her training in Paris. In August 1853, she accepted the management of a nursing home in London and became superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen . The institution welcomes women from good families whose income is insufficient for private care. Florence quickly built a good reputation there and is on her way to becoming head nurse at the King’s College hospital. in London (Southwark).

The Crimean War

In 1854, English troops began to leave for the Crimean War, opposing Russia to the Ottoman Empire, Great Britain and France. Many soldiers died before even reaching the front, from cholera, dysentery or various infections. War correspondents told the press about these losses and the sanitary conditions suffered by the English army, which was less well organized in terms of care than the French army. In response, Florence Nightingale decides to send a group of nurses near the front. With the agreement of the British authorities and despite public opinion, which took a dim view of sending women to the front, she went to Crimea with 38 volunteer nurses, mostly religious, on October 21, 1854.

When they arrive, they discover a catastrophic health situation:overwhelmed personnel, neglected wounded, limited supplies of medicines, numerous fatal infections due to lack of hygiene. Florence and the other volunteers clean the hospital from top to bottom and reorganize care. But their efforts are insufficient to counter the overcrowding, sewage system defects, and infections, and soldiers die in droves until a health commission arrives. This experience will strongly mark Florence, convinced that the high mortality is due to poor sanitary conditions. She will subsequently attach great importance to the sanitary design of hospitals.

The Nightingale Fund

When she returned to England in August 1857, Florence Nightingale was welcomed as a heroine. She contracted an illness in the Crimea and kept the room for a while. In response to a request from Queen Victoria and for the Royal Commission on Health in the Army, she wrote a long report in which she included detailed statistics and listed many recommendations. She is a pioneer in the use of statistics applied to the medical field. As a result of its actions during the Crimean War, the Nightingale Fund was also created to raise funds for nursing education. In 1860, thanks to the Nightingale Fund, she was able to create the Nightingale Training School (now Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery) , a nursing school. In the same year, Florence published Notes on Nursing , introductory book to nursing and serving as a basis for the school program.

In 1869, along with Elizabeth Blackwell, Florence founded the Women's Medical College . In the 1870s, she trained Linda Richards, who would later become a pioneer in nursing in the United States. The nurses trained by its schools are gaining increasing influence in the profession through their skills, becoming chief nurses of many hospitals. In 1883, Florence was decorated with the Royal Red Cross then, in 1907, she became the first woman to be decorated with the Order of Merit. Bedridden from 1896, she nevertheless continued her work by writing books on hospital management.

Florence Nightingale died on August 13, 1910 in London.