Activist & Pioneer Nurse

Celebrating Nightingale

Anne Clark Being Interviewed By Vawn Himmelsbach, Toronto Star Friday, May 15, 2020 


Canadian nurses are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic, just as British nurse Florence Nightingale was on the frontlines during the Crimean War from 1854 to 1856, when the British Empire was at war with Russia for control of the Ottoman Empire.

Recognized as the founder of modern nursing, Nightingale was much more than the ‘lady with the lamp,’ known for her bravery and compassion. She was also a leader in infection control and sanitation, as well as a statistician.

And this year marks the bicentennial anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth on May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy — which happens to coincide with the World Health Organization’s International Year of the Nurse and the Mid-wife. While the public pays tribute to healthcare workers during COVID-19, many healthcare workers also want to pay tribute to the woman who inspired generations of nurses.

Nightingale came from a wealthy family but felt she had more to give to the world. At the request of the British government, she 

led a team of nurses to Scutari Hospital in Turkey during the Crimean War, where she found wounded men sleeping in filthy, overcrowded rooms, often dying from diseases like typhus and cholera rather than their battle wounds. “This was before germ theory, so more soldiers were dying in the hospital than on the battlefield,” says Anne Clark, a retired nurse and Ontario Nurses Association (ONA) board member. When Nightingale arrived at Scutari Hospital, “it was total chaos,” says Clark. So she immediately set to work improving hygiene practices at the hospital, such as basic cleanliness and handwashing — lowering the hospital’s death rate in the process by two-thirds. During this time she wrote an 830-page report that proposed reforms to other military hospitals and led to the Royal Commission for the Health of the Army in 1857.

“I think it’s fascinating that today, with COVID-19 — this unseen enemy — the two things we rely on are basic cleanliness and handwashing,” says Clark. “Her legacy is just as relevant today as when she went to the Crimean.” Well respected by soldiers and physicians alike, Nightingale returned to England a national hero, and in 1860 established the first-of-its-kind Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. At the time, nursing was not something “that nice young ladies would ever consider,” says Clark. But Nightingale changed that, turning nursing into a highly respected profession.

She was also a social activist, campaigning for universal access to healthcare regardless of one’s ability to pay. “That was pretty revolutionary for that day and age,” says Clark. “She was a great reformer and… she was also good at mathematics and used statistics to prove her theories.” Her mathematical and statistical skills tend to get lost in the mythology of the ‘lady of the lamp,’ says Clark. Less well known is the fact that Nightingale became the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society in 1858. Her ability to translate data into a visual format— and easily demonstrate how sanitation decreases death rates — inspired new standards of sanitation in hospitals.

As a pioneer of evidence-based healthcare, Nightingale also advocated for a holistic approach to health and healing. In recognition, she was awarded the Order of Merit in 1908, at the age of 88, by King Edward. “She was so ahead of her time; she did not stick to her prescribed role in society. In the day and age when women were not allowed to go to university, she was made a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society,” says Clark. “She broke many barriers.” Her life’s work still serves as an inspiration to nurses today. “Nightingale is our hero and role model as we struggle to conquer this COVID-19 virus,” says Clark, “and reflect on her insight and teachings.”

Clark, now retired, worked as a full-time nurse for 36 years; she’s currently part of a working group of retired nurses who are organizing events to celebrate Nightingale’s 200th anniversary. A Nightingale Gala is held every year in Ottawa by the Canadian Nurses Foundation to raise funds for nursing education (the gala has been postponed until October, in light of COVID-19). “Social media is how she’s going to be celebrated until we can start being back in-person and face-to-face,” says Clark.

To honour her legacy, five new temporary hospitals in the London area and two in Ireland— which are treating COVID-19 patients — have been named after Nightingale. Clark also hopes that Nightingale will become a bigger focus in school curriculums. “That would be a fitting legacy in Canada,” she says.

For the full article click here: Celebrating Nightingale Toronto Star Article

Anne’s Corner

I want to start by saying thank you to all my colleagues still out there working on the front lines, every shift, every day, during this current Pandemic. You are on the front lines of a battle just as Florence Nightingale’s Nurses were on the front lines of the battle to save lives during the Crimean War.

Today’s fight against COVID –19 is sadly a World-wide battle, that is claiming the lives of many of our colleagues caring for the sick. The World was woefully unprepared for this health crisis. Here in Ontario we had the SARS epidemic and the subsequent Royal Commission chaired by Justice Archie Campbell, whose main recommendation, which arose from the Government’s mishandling of this crisis, was that the Precautionary Principle should be the paramount concern for the protection of those working in health care.

Sadly, these hard-earned lessons have been totally ignored in today’s fight against COVID-19, our colleagues are having to fight for proper protective equipment daily and this is especially true in our Nursing homes. We cannot let these hard-earned lessons be ignored when this current epidemic is under control.

This year 2020 was declared “The Year of the Nurse”. Well, nurses have certainly risen to the occasion. Florence Nightingale was the founder of the modern Nursing Profession. Her lasting legacy today, is all the healthcare nursing professionals caring for the sick all over the World in this fight against an unseen enemy, COVOD-19. We shall prevail.

Stay safe and stay strong.

Anne Clark RN

Florence Nightingale
May 12, 1820-August 13, 1910

Florence Nightingale revolutionized the practice of nursing in the 19th century and yet her ideas I believe still resonate with nursing in the 21st century.

She is recognized as the founder of our Modern Nursing Profession.

She was born in Florence Italy on May 12 1820 into a very wealthy English family; her Maternal Grandfather William Smith MP was a radical thinker, involved in the movement for the abolition of slavery. She had other female relatives with progressive views on education and women’s suffrage, so was exposed to progressive ideas growing up (“Florence Nightingale A Very Brief History” by Lynn McDonald). She had an excellent education, which was unusual for women in that era.  An understanding of mathematics was a strength she used later in life; she used statistics and data collection to advance and support her ideas on Nursing and Health promotion.

Her revolutionary ideas on what nursing was and was not, and her success in advancing these ideas, to advocate for education for nurses, changed how Nursing was practiced and regarded by society.

Her legacy is as relevant today as when she wrote notes “Notes on Nursing” and “Notes on Hospitals”.  She gained a short hands-on nursing experience nursing Cholera patients during an outbreak at the Middlesex Hospital in London England, prior to her time as the leader of the team of nurses she took out to the Crimean War in Turkey.

This was a brutal war between Britain and France allied against Russia, which lasted from 1854 until 1856. The British soldiers were surviving being wounded on the battlefield yet dying in the Army Hospital in Scutari.  The death toll in the Army Hospital was staggering. Soldiers who were being treated for wounds sustained in battle were dying by the thousands.  Florence Nightingale and her nurses arrived after the famous Battle of Balaclava, just before the Battle of Inkerman.

In 1854 the British Government and her close friend and ally Sidney Herbert, who was Secretary of State at War, asked her to take out a group of Nurses to work in the Army Hospital in Scutari. This was in response to public outrage on learning of the appalling loses and the conditions at the Army hospital in Crimea.  She and her nurses had to surmount many obstacles, including fierce opposition from army Surgeons, lack of supplies, lack of food, to name a few. Sadly the soldiers were still dying in spite of the nursing care.  The hospital was built on top of an old blocked sewer so sanitary conditions were appalling. Not until this was discovered, and the Army Sanitary Commission repaired this sewer, did the survival rate improve.  Using the methods she promoted of basic cleanliness, the improved sanitary conditions, hand washing, nursing skills and organization of supplies and dietary needs, they dramatically improved the survival rate of the wounded and saved lives.

She promoted what we would call a holistic approach to nursing. She spoke to the soldiers, wrote letters home to families and due to her carrying a lantern at night while doing her rounds the soldiers named her “The Lady with the Lamp” (“The Life of Florence Nightingale” by E.T. Cook). A lamp like the one she would have used at the hospital in Scutari can be seen today as part of the collection of the Nightingale Museum at St Thomas Hospital in London.

The nurses who went to the Crimea with Florence Nightingale were made up of women who had some knowledge of nursing and work in Hospitals and others with no experience. Some were from from religious orders.

Nursing at this time was not a highly regarded choice of profession for “nice young women”. Women outside of religious orders who called themselves nurses were usually from the lower rungs of British Society, with looser morals and a liking for Gin, as immortalized by the “Sarah Gamp” character in the Charles Dickens novel Martin Chuzewit.

Nurses trained using Florence Nightingales principles changed the perception of nursing and it became a Profession young women could aspire to.

She founded the first Nursing School in the world to train nurses at St Thomas Hospital in London in 1860 using funds that had been donated due to her work in the Crimea, and in appreciation for saving so many soldiers lives. The money was the equivalent of millions of dollars in today’s money. This Nursing School was still educating Nurses up into the 1970’s. St. Thomas Hospital is now the home of the Nightingale Museum.

She was instrumental in the founding of a District Nursing Service in England and in 1861 a Nightingale Midwifery Ward and training programme opened at Kings College Hospital in London. Her work inspired many others to become advocates for health care, including the founder of the Red Cross.

By 1887 Nursing Schools were established in London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Sydney and Philadelphia with many more to follow all over the World. These schools worldwide and here in Canada were modeled on the principles set out by Florence Nightingale. The first Nursing School in Canada using these principles was established at the General and Marine Hospital in St Catherine’s in 1874 (Gibbon and Mathewson1947).

Nurses trained and educated at these Hospitals went on to become the Matrons running hospitals worldwide. Imagine! Matrons, who were nurses, ran Hospitals up into the 1970’s.

She collected the data and used this empirical evidence to prove and promote her theories on the need for reform in health care. Doesn’t this sound familiar!  Accurate statistics were the way to promote and advance her theories on better health care for all. Her designs for Hospitals were adopted, as was her holistic approach to healthcare.

In spite of this she knew hospitals were dangerous places and one of her guiding principles was that they “do no harm”, a belief as relevant today as it was then. Her basic hygienic principle of hand washing in order to prevent the spread of disease is also as relevant today it was in the 19th century.

I read about her when I was growing up, and that coupled with my experience as a 12-year-old patient in a Fever Hospital, in Glasgow at Christmas and in isolation with Scarlet Fever, inspired my desire in becoming a Nurse.

Florence Nightingale promoted professional, free health care available for all in society. Again, doesn’t this sound familiar; it is a guiding principal of ONA, CFNU and all our other Canadian Nursing associations.

Florence Nightingale was a nurse a reformer, a mentor, an administrator, a statistician and a vocal advocate for the Nursing profession and for an increased role for women in Society. Her work and writings inspired me and I hope can continue to inspire my Nursing colleagues, and those just entering our profession, today and in the future.

Her legacy is as relevant today as it was when she started her fight for Nursing as a Profession. I invite you to join me in celebrating her Bicentenary in 2020

Anne Clark
Retired ONA member 

For More Information Contact:

Anne Clark RN

Carolyn Edgar RN

Cristina Buco RN

Eleanor Adarna RN