Celebrating Nightingale 2020 BicentenaryFlorence Nightingale 200 years
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
Retired ONA member