Short Biography Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale OM RRC DStJ (/ˈnaɪtɪŋɡeɪl/; 12 May 1820 – 13 August 1910) was an English social reformer, statistician, and the founder of modern nursing. Nightingale came to prominence while serving as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, in which she organized to care for wounded soldiers at Constantinople.
She significantly reduced death rates by improving hygiene and living standards.
Nightingale gave nursing a favorable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture, especially in the persona of “The Lady with the Lamp” making rounds of wounded soldiers at night.
Recent commentators have asserted that Nightingale’s Crimean War achievements were exaggerated by the media at the time, but critics agree on the importance of her later work in professionalizing nursing roles for women.
In 1860, she laid the foundation of professional nursing with the establishment of her nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. It was the first secular nursing school in the world and is now part of King’s College London.
In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge taken by new nurses, and the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve, were named in her honor, and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated on her birthday.
Her social reforms included improving healthcare for all sections of British society, advocating better hunger relief in India, helping to abolish prostitution laws that were harsh for women, and expanding the acceptable forms of female participation in the workforce. Nightingale was a pioneer in statistics; she represented her analysis in graphical forms to ease drawing conclusions and actionable data. She is famous for her usage of the polar area diagram, also called the Nightingale rose diagram, equivalent to a modern circular histogram. This diagram is still regularly used in data visualization.
Nightingale was a prodigious and versatile writer. In her lifetime, much of her published work was concerned with spreading medical knowledge. Some of her tracts were written in simple English so that they could easily be understood by those with poor literacy skills. She was also a pioneer in data visualization with the use of infographics, using graphical presentations of statistical data in an effective way. Much of her writing, including her extensive work on religion and mysticism, has only been published posthumously.
Florence Nightingale was born on 12 May 1820 into a wealthy and well-connected British family at the Villa Colombaia, in Florence, Tuscany, Italy, and was named after the city of her birth. Florence’s older sister Frances Parthenope had similarly been named after her place of birth, Parthenope, a Greek settlement now part of the city of Naples. The family moved back to England in 1821, with Nightingale being brought up in the family’s homes at Embley, Hampshire, and Lea Hurst, Derbyshire.
Florence inherited a liberal-humanitarian outlook from both sides of her family.
Her parents were William Edward Nightingale, born William Edward Shore (1794–1874), and Frances (“Fanny”) Nightingale (née Smith; 1788–1880). William’s mother Mary (née Evans) was the niece of Peter Nightingale, under the terms of whose will William inherited his estate at Lea Hurst, and assumed the name and arms of Nightingale. Fanny’s father (Florence’s maternal grandfather) was the abolitionist and Unitarian William Smith.
Nightingale’s father educated her.
A BBC documentary reported that “Florence and her older sister Parthenope benefited from their father’s advanced ideas about women’s education. They studied history, mathematics, Italian, classical literature, and philosophy, and from an early age Florence, who was the more academic of the two girls, displayed an extraordinary ability for collecting and analyzing data which she would use to great effect in later life.”
In 1838, her father took the family on a tour in Europe where she was introduced to the English-born Parisian hostess Mary Clarke, with whom Florence bonded. She recorded that “Clarkey” was a stimulating hostess who did not care for her appearance, and while her ideas did not always agree with those of her guests, “she was incapable of boring anyone.”
Her behavior was said to be exasperating and eccentric and she had little respect for upper-class British women, whom she regarded generally as inconsequential. She said that if given the choice between being a woman or a galley slave, then she would choose the freedom of the galleys. She generally rejected female companies and spent her time with male intellectuals. Clarke made an exception, however, in the case of the Nightingale family and Florence in particular. She and Florence were to remain close friends for 40 years despite their 27-year age difference. Clarke demonstrated that women could be equals to men, an idea that Florence had not obtained from her mother.
Nightingale underwent the first of several experiences that she believed were calls from God in February 1837 while at Embley Park, prompting a strong desire to devote her life to the service of others.
In her youth she was respectful of her family’s opposition to her working as a nurse, only announcing her decision to enter the field in 1844.
Despite the anger and distress of her mother and sister, she rejected the expected role of a woman of her status to become a wife and mother. Nightingale worked hard to educate herself in the art and science of nursing, in the face of opposition from her family and the restrictive social code for affluent young English women.
As a young woman, Nightingale was described as attractive, slender, and graceful.
While her demeanor was often severe, she was said to be very charming and to possess a radiant smile. Her most persistent suitor was the politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, but after a nine-year courtship, she rejected him, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing.
In Rome in 1847, she met Sidney Herbert, a politician who had been Secretary at War (1845–1846) and who was on his honeymoon. He and Nightingale became lifelong close friends. Herbert would be Secretary of War again during the Crimean War when he and his wife would be instrumental in facilitating Nightingale’s nursing work in Crimea.
She became Herbert’s key adviser throughout his political career, though she was accused by some of having hastened Herbert’s death from Bright’s disease in 1861 because of the pressure her program of reform placed on him. Nightingale also much later had strong relations with academic Benjamin Jowett, who may have wanted to marry her.
Nightingale continued her travels (now with Charles and Selina Bracebridge) as far as Greece and Egypt.
While in Athens, Greece, Nightingale rescued a juvenile little owl from a group of children who were tormenting it, and she named the owl Athena. Nightingale often carried the owl in her pocket, until the pet died (soon before Nightingale left for Crimea).
Her writings on Egypt, in particular, are testimony to her learning, literary skill, and philosophy of life. Sailing up the Nile as far as Abu Simbel in January 1850, she wrote of the Abu Simbel temples, “Sublime in the highest style of intellectual beauty, intellect without effort, without suffering … not a feature is correct — but the whole effect is more expressive of spiritual grandeur than anything I could have imagined. It makes the impression upon one that thousands of voices do, uniting in one unanimous simultaneous feeling of enthusiasm or emotion, which is said to overcome the strongest man.”
At Thebes, she wrote of being “called to God”, while a week later near Cairo she wrote in her diary (as distinct from her far longer letters that her elder sister Parthenope was to print after her return): “God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation.”
Later in 1850, she visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein in Germany, where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the sick and the deprived. She regarded the experience as a turning point in her life, and issued her findings anonymously in 1851; The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, for the Practical Training of Deaconesses, etc. was her first published work.
She also received four months of medical training at the institute, which formed the basis for her later care. On 22 August 1853, Nightingale took the post of superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London, a position she held until October 1854.
Her father had given her an annual income of £500 (roughly £40,000/US$65,000 in present terms), which allowed her to live comfortably and pursue her career.