Most of us desire to make a difference during our lifetime, leaving a legacy for future generations to acknowledge and admire. This month, we are remembering one woman who did that, paving the way for future female nurses. Next week, May 12, marks Florence Nightingale’s birthday. That date falls right at the end of the national recognition of Nurses Week. In honor of her birthday and the start to Nurses Week (May 6), we are looking back at Nightingale’s life.
Florence Nightingale’s Early Life
Making a difference was not Nightingale’s goal. She just wanted to do what she loved to do: help people. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Nightingale was born in 1820. She was named after the city of her birth, while her parents were on an extended European honeymoon. The Nightingale’s later returned to England to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle. From a young age, her parents knew she was different. She didn’t enjoy tasks at home, but rather excelled at multiple languages, math and enjoyed reading writings from great philosophers. Nightingale knew she wanted to help others and became excited to engage in nursing. However, her family pushed back against her wishes, because it was an inappropriate career for women at that time.
Entering the War Zone
Despite her family’s protests, Nightingale was able to participate in several rounds of nursing training in Germany. In October 1853, the Turkish Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia in what became the Crimean War. After seeing reports from the British troop hospital, the people pushed the government to improve the way soldiers were cared for at the site. Government official contacted Nightingale, asking her to gather nurses and make their way to the war hospital. Nightingale took on the challenge, gathering over 30 women to head to the hospital site. They entered into a hostile environment, where the hospital leaders were unwelcoming and the conditions were overcrowded and unsanitary. Nightingale got to work improving the hospital by finding funds to purchase adequate supplies and enlisting soldiers’ wives to do laundry. Most importantly, Nightingale created a standard of care requiring the basics of bathing, clean clothing and dressing and food. Nightingale was often spotted combing through the beds at night, earning the nickname “Lady with the Lamp.”
The changes she made led to a reduction in the mortality rate to about two percent, which gained her respect and fame in England. While historians later revealed the mortality rate was much higher, the processes Nightingale implemented saved lives.
Becoming Ill and Heading Home
In 1855, Nightingale took her first excursions to Crimea, but became ill with the “Crimean Fever,” which experts say is brucellosis. She reportedly experienced a slow recovery, which often kept her confined to her bed for bouts that lasted for a 25-year period.
While Nightingale is often remembered for her work during the Crimean War, her efforts didn’t stop there. After arriving home, she focused on creating social reform in health care and nursing. She met with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to discuss the health care needs in the British Military. A Royal Commission used statistics that Nightingale provided to engage in military health care reform.
Leaving a Lasting Legacy
The Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London opened in 1860. The school helped shape nursing education, making it a respectable profession for women. Some of Nightingale’s statistical models are still used today, and for this reason, she is often referred to as the foundational philosopher of modern nursing. She’s also known for improving the health in households through her book, Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not.
Nightingale passed away in August 1910 at her home in London at the age of 90. The public hoped to honor her with a state funeral, but Nightingale’s family declined. Instead, she was laid to rest in her family’s burial plot. The Florence Nightingale Museum, which sits at the original site of her school, houses thousands of artifacts commemorating Nightingale’s life and the huge impact she made in health care.
UnityPoint Health Nurses
Our nurses, like Florence Nightingale, are constantly working to better care. They work long hours, in often stressful environments and we are grateful for their commitment, courage and dedication. This Nurses Week we honor them for their passion to better patients’ lives.
*The Information on Florence Nightingale’s life is based on information from the Encyclopedia Britannica.