Florence Nightingale

Jul 13, 2021 | Aussie Nurse

Florence Nightingale is known as the founder of modern nursing, her body of work was large and included social reforms, plus she was a statistician too. During the Crimea War Florence worked in a military hospital in Scutari, Turkey she was involved with managing of the hospital and quickly identified that basic needs of the soldiers such as nutrition, hygiene and sanitation were not being met


Florence found that a large number of the soldiers deaths were due to preventable illnesses and diseases, with only a small number of soldiers actually passing away from the wounds they sustain during conflict.

When thinking of Florence Nightingale a famous image of her comes to mind, on her rounds at night she is holding a lamp in hand and is comforting wounded soldiers at their bedside. This particular image is what makes Florence be known as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’.

Florence Nightingales Early Life –

Florence Nightingale was born on the 12th May 1820 in Florence, Italy and later she was brought up in England as her father was originally from Yorkshire.

Florence was born into a wealthy family and her education for the time was unique as herself and her siblings were educated by their father. It is said that they were more educated than males of that time as being intellectually equal to males was unusual for females.

They studied history, mathematics, classical literature and philosophy, also Florence spoke five different languages including French, Latin, Greek, Italian & German, as well as English.

Also, Florence had an ability for collecting and analysing data which she used during the Crimea War with a Coxcomb chart.




Florence Nightingales Pursuit To Become A Nurse –

Being born into a wealthy family, Florence and her siblings were taught to care for the poor and care for others in the community who were sick or weak. As Florence had a calling to care for others she was convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to pursue nursing, she was reluctant to marry any suitors. From a societal point of view this was brave for a female to do as woman had no voice and required a husbands permission for any activities or pursuits they wanted to follow.

Declining marriage was not the only obstacle for Florence as nurses were seen as ‘morally suspect who are drunkards’ and nurses were not respected. Florence was from an upper class of society, her place was to give out blankets and bread to the poor, attend charity benefits, it was not to ‘wade in filth and disease or hear language or see parts of the body or worse fall into some immortally of own or get sick’ (unknown source).

Even with having battles and growing resentments towards her parents she still pursued nursing, as they did not take kindly to her decision. Florence had two visits to Kaiserwerth in Germany, it was a Catholic institute where she received some foundational medical training on practices of hygiene and sanitation, she saw surgeries and managed wounds. 

Once back in London, Florence found work in a hospital and was given the title ‘Superintendent at The Institute For Sick Gentle Woman’. She did rounds with the doctors and cared for people, yet duties only could be completed with the doctors instructions as nurses were not able to operate independently. Florence’s father paid her an allowance as she was not receiving a wage from this position.

“I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel”

– Florence Nightingale

The Crimean War –

The Crimean War was from 1853 to 1856, Britain and France declared war on Russia it was a result of Russian’s pressure on Turkey. British, French, Sardinian and Turkish troops fought against Russia in the war and the loss of life of soldiers from all nations was extremely high.

Many of the problems with the injuries and death rates of this war was not new in respects to overseas military expeditions, although the Crimean War was the first campaign to be reported on by a war correspondent. The reporting of the war highlighted accounts of the Army’s lack of equipment, the conditions of hospitals and medical neglect with the news sent back to Britain there was a public outcry. 

The military hospital based at Scutari was ill-equipped, the medical staff were overwhelmed and with men sometimes laying, starving and untreated for weeks. The medical base was unclean, poorly supplied with bandages or soap and the soldiers did not have proper food or medicine.

As news reached Britain, Florence wrote a letter campaigning to the government to be allowed to go to Scutari and help. She had many connections in the government with Sydney Herbert, Minister of Law suggesting Florence to be sent to Turkey.

Florence was given the title ‘Office Of Superintendent Of The Female Nursing Establishment In The English General Military Hospitals In Turkey’ and provided with a band of 38-40 nurses to travel to Scutari with.

When Florence Nightingale arrived in Turkey with her band of nurses it was a shock as rats and flies were everywhere with raw sewage leaking all over the floors. The wounded and dying men were sleeping in overcrowded, dirty rooms often without blankets, with these poor conditions the soldiers caught other diseases such as typhus, cholera and dysentery. More soldiers died from these diseases than from their injuries from conflict.

Florence had another obstacle, she found that the army doctors did not want the nurses helping, she realised quickly that this was not going to be an easy task and she had to wait with her band of nurses in dormitories until an emergency occurred. 

Then came the time and ‘all hands on deck’ were needed, when the doctors were overwhelmed with the amount of wounded soldiers coming from battle, the nurses were able to start caring for the wounded men.

Florence found that the environment and the doctors were not effective and she draw on what she had learnt on in the past, then translated that into the military field setting. Florence improved the sanitary conditions, organised for supplies of food and then set up a triage system for the incoming wounded soldiers, the nurses prioritised and helped the worse off first instead of treating by rank or hierarchy.

Florence was still in connection with the British government and the ‘society woman’ in London, she organised for supplies of laundry, sheets, soap, food, cutlery, cups and other items to be sent to Scutari.

Florence was always collecting statistics and she is actually one of the most prominent statisticians in history, she designed the “Coxcomb” chart. Nowadays, we use computers to visualise data in the same format that Florence used, with her work still influencing how we represent data today.

Collecting data and using statistics saved many of the soldiers lives during the war, Florence made charts and identified that most of the soldiers died from preventable conditions. This success for Florence and her band of nurses helped to reduce the death rate at Scutari by half within a matter of weeks, before they arrived people who were ill at home receiving care had better survival rates than soldiers in the field with doctors present.

Mind you in the first month one dozen nurses left Scutari to return home, Florence dismissed nurses who were not up to her standards, cleanliness or efficiency and a new group of 46 nurses were sent later.

No one saw Florence’s struggles in Britain, yet she was being championed by the public and by Queen Victoria. Florence’s reputation was growing, people were reading about a young, wealthy female who was caring for soldiers in the newspapers. She was becoming known as ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, a person who is self sacrificing her own time to sit by the bed of wounded soldiers, paying attention by listening to them, all while being a figure of comfort for the men.

Nurses were being seen in a different light by society and eventually the war ended, Peace came and the military field hospital closed. Letters of recommendations were written by Florence and given to each of her nurses.


Florences Returns Back to Britain –

Florence came back into Britain quietly, she did not want to be celebrated. Whilst Florence was at war she fell ill with “Crimean fever”-  brucellosis, possibly from drinking contaminated milk or eating raw meat, the effects of the disease is a debilitating illness which confined her to bed. Florence only allowed her servants to see her and communicated through letters and this included her mother too.

She continued to still work from her bed and spent the rest of her life promoting and organising the nursing profession. Florence received copious donations from the Nightingale Fund, it was set up to recognise her work in the Crimean war. With these funds Florence established the Nightingale School of Nursing, at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London in 1860.

While still working from her bed, a few of Florence’s accomplishments were – 

  • Florence wrote books called ‘Notes on Nursing’ and ‘Notes on Hospitals’, with a third book which contained her letters
  • Florence provided advice and observations after collecting data of high mortality from sickness among British troops in regards to conditions of the army stations with the East Indian Company (India)
  • She wrote speeches for Member of Parliaments (without her real name attached; England)
  • She spent time to provide nutritional advice to- ‘Influence on Civil War Nutrition Florence Nightingale’s Directions for Cooking by Troops in Camp and Hospital’ and was published for the Army of Virginia by order of the Surgeon General in 1861 (USA)

At 90 years old on the 13th August 1910, Florence Nightingale passed away at home. Her family respected her wishes by refusing a national funeral and a place in Westminster Abbey, Florence had a small funeral by her families plot.

Florence Nightingales achievements are remembered through  

  • Florence was honoured by becoming the first woman to receive the Order Of Merit by King Edward VII
  • She was the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society
  • The NHS Nightingale hospital is named after Florence Nightingale
  • Florence Nightingale has a statue in London, United Kingdom
  • International Nurses Day is usually observed every year on the 12th May, which commemorates Florences birth and celebrates the important role of nurses worldwide.

This Youtube clip by transformingArt is a rare voice of Florence Nightingale, it was recorded on the Edison Parafine Wax Cylinder on July 30th, 1890.



  • Florence Nightingale Museum – https://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk
  • Feature photograph of Florence Nightingale by Henry Hering (1814-1893) – National Portrait Gallery, London
  • Photograph of Coxcomb, source unknown

(no copyright infringement is intended)

“Let whoever is in charge keep this simple question in her head (not, how can I always do this right thing myself, but) how can I provide for this right thing to be always done?”

– Florence Nightingale

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