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Florence Nightingale

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Florence Nightingale Facts:

Dates: May 12, 1820 - August 13, 1910

Occupation: nurse, reformer

Known for: founder of the modern nursing profession as a trained profession. Head British nurse, Crimean War.

Also known as: Lady with the Lamp; Flo

Florence Nightingale Biography:

Born to a comfortable family, Florence Nightingale was educated by governesses and then by her father, with her older sister, Parthenope. She was familiar with the Greek and Latin classical languages, and modern languages of French, German, and Italian. She also studied history, grammar, and philosophy. At twenty, she overcame parental objections to receive tutoring in mathematics.

Called to a Mission in Life:

On February 7, 1837, Florence Nightingale heard, by her account, the voice of God telling her that she had a mission in life. It took her some years of searching to identify that mission. This was the first of four occasions where Florence Nightingale said she heard the voice of God.

By 1844, over parental objections, Florence Nightingale chose a different path than the social life and marriage expected of her by her parents -- she chose to work in nursing, which was then not quite a respectable profession for women.

Florence Nightingale went to Kaiserwerth in Prussia to experience a German training program for girls who would serve as nurses. She worked briefly for a Sisters of Mercy hospital near Paris. Her views began to be respected.

In 1853, Florence Nightingale became the (unpaid) superintendent of London's Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen.

Florence Nightingale in the Crimea:

When the Crimean War began, reports came back to England about terrible conditions for wounded and sick soldiers. Florence Nightingale volunteered to go to Turkey, and at the urging of a family friend, then secretary of state at war, she took a large group of women as nurses. Thirty-eight women, including 18 Anglican and Roman Catholic sisters, accompanied Florence Nightingale to the warfront.

Florence Nightingale left England on October 21, 1854, and entered the military hospital at Scutari, Turkey, on November 5, 1854.

From 1854-56, Florence Nightingale headed nursing efforts in English military hospitals in Scutari, Turkey. She established more sanitary conditions and ordered supplies, beginning with clothing and bedding. She gradually won over -- at least enough to get cooperation -- the military doctors. She used significant funds raised by the London Times.

Soon, Florence Nightingale focused more on administration than on actual nursing. But she continued to visit the wards, and to send letters back home from injured and ill soldiers. Her rule that she be the only woman in the wards at night earned her the title "The Lady with the Lamp." The mortality rate at the military hospital fell from 60% at her arrival to 2% six months later.

Florence Nightingale applied her education and interest in mathematics to develop statistical analyses of disease and mortality, inventing the use of the pie chart.

Florence Nightingale fought both a not-too-willing military bureaucracy and her own illness with Crimean fever to eventually become general superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment of the Military Hospitals of the Army (March 16, 1856).

Return to England:

Florence Nightingale was already a heroine in England when she returned, though she actively worked against the adulation of the public. She helped to establish the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army in 1857, and gave evidence to the commission and compiled her own report, published privately in 1858. She also became involved -- from London -- in advising on sanitation in India.

Florence Nightingale was quite ill from 1857 until the end of her life, living in London, mostly as an invalid. Her illness, never identified, may have been organic or psychosomatic -- some have even suspected it was intentional, to give her the privacy and time to continue her writing. She could choose when to receive visits from people including her family members.

In 1860 she founded the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses in London, England, using funds contributed by the public to honor her work in the Crimea. In 1861, she helped inspire the Liverpool system of district nursing, which later spread widely.

Elizabeth Blackwell's plan for opening a Woman's Medical College (it opened in 1868 and continued for 31 years) was developed in consultation with Florence Nightingale.

By 1901, Florence Nightingale was completely blind. The King awarded her the Order of Merit in 1907, making Florence Nightingale the first woman to receive that honor.

Florence Nightingale declined the offer of a national funeral and of burial at Westminster Abbey, requesting that her grave be marked simply.

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