By Tim Lambert

Her Early Life

Florence Nightingale was born in the city of Florence, Italy on 12 May 1820. She was the second daughter of wealthy parents (her elder sister was called Parthenope) Her mother wanted Florence to marry a rich man. However, Florence was a devout Christian and when she was 17 she felt God was calling her to serve him. At first, Florence was not sure how God wanted her to serve but by 1844 she was convinced she was to nurse the sick. Her parents, William and Frances were horrified because at that time nursing was definitely not a respectable job! Nurses were often drunk and conditions in hospitals were dreadful. Her family tried to talk Florence out of it but she was determined. A man named Richard Monckton Miles tried to persuade Florence to marry him but she refused even though she adored him. Florence Nightingale was determined to sacrifice herself. Nevertheless, it was several years before she got any nursing experience. In 1851 she went to Kaiserwerth in Germany to learn. Then in 1853, she was given her first post reorganizing a small hospital in Harvey Street, London, The Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances. Florence Nightingale did an excellent job of reorganizing the hospital.

The Crimean War

As a result of her work Sidney Herbert the Secretary of War invited her to go on a mission to soldiers wounded fighting the Russians. (At that time Britain, France and Turkey were fighting Russia. Nightingale sailed with 38 nurses to Turkey on 21 October 1854. They arrived in November. Florence found military hospitals were dirty and bare and great numbers of soldiers were dying of diseases. She worked very long hours to bring order and cleanliness to the hospitals and she became a heroine to the British public. They raised 45,000 pounds (a huge sum in those days) to help her.

Florence Nightingale returned to Britain in 1856. She was commissioned to investigate the living conditions of British soldiers in peacetime. In 1858 she published her findings as Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army. In 1860 Florence Nightingale opened the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St Thomas Hospital. She greatly raised standards of nursing. Every probationer who entered the school was interviewed by Florence and supervised by her. In old age Florence Nightingale suffered from ill health and she went blind. By the mid-1890s Florence was an invalid. However she was awarded the Order of Merit in 1907. Florence Nightingale died on 13 August 1910.

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Last revised 2019