Florence Nightingale Biography (1820-1910)

Nurse, Public Health advocate

Florence Nightingale is generally regarded as having founded the modern profession of nursing. She was born in Florence, Italy, to very wealthy parents who were on an extended honeymoon (2 years) throughout Europe. Her family returned to their estate in England, where Nightingale's father taught her languages, history, and philosophy. It was expected that Nightingale would follow the conventions of the era, learning needlework and leisurely, lady's activities, eventually marrying as befitted her station in high society. At 16, however, Nightingale felt herself to be called to higher purpose by the voice of God.

Nightingale approached her parents about her desire to enter training to become a nurse, but they were horrified at the low-class nature of her interest,and tried to dissuade her. Ultimately, they forbade her, but within a few years she ignored their protests and enrolled in the Institution of Deaconessesin Germany. She returned to London at age 33 to become superintendent of a woman's hospital.

In 1854, reports were returning to England about the horrifying conditions inthe Crimea, where Britain and France had battled Russia. Thousands of wounded British soldiers were dying of the suboptimal medical conditions in the makeshift hospitals that had been set up in Turkey. The British people were angered that their men, who had served their country so well, were now being neglected in their hour of need.

In October of 1854, Nightingale was tapped by the secretary of war to lead acontingent of nurses to the Crimea. Nightingale arrived in Scutari with 38 other nurses. Indeed, the reports had been understated. Wounded and ill soldiers lay in filth on straw pallets in crowded hallways. Rats and insects crawledthe floors and walls, and the hospitals lacked basic supplies, such as cots,mattresses, bandages, washbasins, soap, towels. Water was rationed, and available in totally inadequate amounts. While Nightingale did not understand basic "germ theory," she still recognized that overcrowding, filth, and poor ventilation all contributed to the illness she saw before her. She immediately requisitioned 200 scrub brushes, and, enlisting the most well of the soldiers,set a team to work cleaning the filthy building. Nightingale worked tirelessly caring for the soldiers, day and night. By night, she carried a lamp through the corridors, stopping to help the suffering. For this, she was nicknamed"the lady of the lamp."

Nightingale tried to go to the Crimea to work, but was met with protests fromofficials, who said that her only area of authority was in Scutari. Furthermore, shortly after her arrival, she fell severely ill with Crimean fever. Shereturned to England in 1856, and remained a bedridden invalid for the rest of her life.

Despite her lifelong illness, Nightingale continued to have amazing influence. She also continued to write about appropriate medical practices for the military, prompting the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army. Officials came to her residence to meet with her, and she read and stayed abreast of various public health issues around the world. In fact, shewas considered an expert on health issues in India, although she had never traveled there. Nightingale wrote extensively about hospital planning and organization, and about educating health professionals, especially nurses. Nightingale died on August 13, 1910.

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