Florence Nightingale, an English nurse widely known for her work during the Crimean War, laid the foundation for the nursing profession as it is known today. In 1860, she would establish the first secular nursing school in the world at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. Nightingale’s focus on compassion, patient care commitment, and diligent hospital administration has been a lasting contribution to modern day nursing.
Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy (for which she is named) on May 12, 1820. Her family was a well-connected British family of a rich, upper-class nature. Nightingale’s mother and sister expected her to become a wife and mother, but what Nightingale described as “a call from God” in 1837 led her to become a nurse.
In 1844, despite resistance from her family, Nightingale announced her intentions and began educating herself in the science of nursing. Her commitment to nursing went so far as to rejecting a marriage proposal, as she thought it would interfere with being a nurse.
While in Rome, a budding friendship with politician Sidney Hebert and his wife helped facilitate Nightingale’s early nursing work. She would spend the next several years traveling as far as Greece and Egypt, all the while writing about the experiences that would further drive her work as a nurse.
A visit to the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein in Germany was a turning point in her life. In 1851, Nightingale would anonymously post her findings and observations of the work being done at the community for the sick and the deprived. It was at Kaiserswerth that she would also receive four months of medical training – the basis for her later care.
In 1853, Nightingale became Superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London, a position she held until October 1854.
Reports coming back to Britain about the horrible conditions for the wounded soldiers of the Crimean War led Nightingale to the British base camp. With her, she brought 38 volunteer women nurses, all trained by Nightingale. Upon arrival, they found medicine in short supply, neglected hygiene, mass infections and an overworked medical staff.
Nightingale set out to making improvements in hygiene while also calling for assistance from the Sanitary Commission. Sadly, 10 times more soldiers died from illnesses than from battle wounds. Finally, almost six months after Nightingale’s arrival, the Sanitary Commission began flushing out the sewers and making improvements to ventilation. As a result, death rates were reduced sharply.
It was only after Nightingale returned to Britain that she believed poor living conditions were the reason for so many soldier deaths. Rather, while volunteering she credited the deaths to poor nutrition and the overworking of soldiers.
While still in the Crimea, the Nightingale Fund was established in recognition of her work during the war. A slew of generous donations meant nurses could finally be properly trained. Through the fund, she would set up the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1860.
Nightingale wrote Notes on Nursing in 1859, which became the basis for nursing school curriculums across the world, and was also popular with the general public. Queen Victoria awarded Nightingale the Royal Red Cross in 1883. She was also the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit in 1907.
Nightingale would spend the rest of her life promoting the nursing profession and its development until her death in 1910 at the age of 90. Nightingale’s birthday is now celebrated as International CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) Awareness Day as she had developed a serious case of CFS in her 30’s.