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Florence Nightingale

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE (1820-1910), younger daughter of William Edward Nightingale of Embley Park, Hampshire, and Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, was born at Florence on the 15th of May 1820, and named after that city, but her childhood was spent in England, chiefly in Derbyshire. From her earliest years her strong love of nature and animals manifested itself. Her games, too, were characteristic, for her great delight was to nurse and bandage her dolls. Her first living patient was a shepherd's dog. From tending animals she passed to human beings, and wherever there was sorrow or suffering she was sure to be found. Her most ardent desire was to use her talents for the benefit of humanity. She had a natural shrinking from society; and though her social position necessitated her presentation at Court, her first season in town was spent in examining into the working of hospitals, reformatories and other charitable institutions. This was followed by a tour of inspection of foreign hospitals. At that time England was sadly behind-hand in matters of nursing and sanitation, and Miss Nightingale, who desired to obtain the best possible teaching for herself, went through a course of training in the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth. She remained there six months, learning every detail of hospital management with a thoroughness rarely equalled. Miss Nightingale neglected nothing that could make her proficient in her self-chosen task. From Kaiserswerth she went to Paris, where she studied the system of nursing and management in the hospitals under the charge of the sisters of St Vincent de Paul. After her return to England she devoted herself to reorganizing the Governesses' Sanatorium in Harley Street (now the Home for Gentlewomen during Temporary Illness), which was at that time badly managed and in great need of funds. Miss Nightingale grudged neither time nor money to this work, and she had the satisfaction of placing it on a thoroughly satisfactory basis.

In the year 1854 England was stirred to its depths by the report of the sufferings of the sick and wounded in the Crimea. There was an utter absence of the commonest preparations to carry out the first and simplest demands in a place set apart to receive the sick and wounded of a large army. The condition of the large barrack-hospital at Scutari was deplorable. A royal commission of inquiry was appointed, a patriotic fund opened, and money flowed in fast. To Miss Nightingale this proved the trumpet-call of duty. She wrote to Sidney Herbert, secretary at war, and offered her services. Her letter crossed with one from him inviting her to proceed to the Crimea. She set out on the 24th October with a staff of thirty-seven nurses, partly volunteers, partly professionals trained in hospitals. They reached Scutari on the 4th of November, in time to receive the Balaklava wounded. A day or two later these were joined by 600 from Inkerman. The story of Miss Nightingale's labours at Scutari is one of the brightest pages in English annals. She gave herself, body and soul, to the work. She would stand for twenty hours at a stretch to see the wounded accommodated. She regularly took her place in the operation-room, to hearten the sufferers by her presence and sympathy, and at night she would make her solitary round of the wards, lamp in hand, stopping here and there to speak a kindly word to some patient. Soon she had 10,000 men under her charge, and the general superintendence of all the hospitals on the Bosporus. Gradually the effects of the measures adopted were seen in a lowered death-rate. In February 1855 it was as high as 42%, before many months it had sunk to 2. For a time Miss Nightingale was herself prostrated with fever, but she refused to leave her post, and remained at Scutari till Turkey was evacuated by the British in July 1856. The enthusiasm aroused in England by Miss Nightingale's labours was indescribable. A man-of-war was ordered to bring her home, and London prepared to give her a triumphant reception; but she returned quietly in a French ship, crossed to England, and escaped to her country home before the news of her return could leak out. The experiences of those terrible months permanently affected Miss Nightingale's health, but the quiet life she afterwards led was full of usefulness. With the 50,000 raised in recognition of her services she founded the Nightingale Home for training nurses at St Thomas's and King's College Hospitals. She also turned her attention to the question of army sanitary reform and army hospitals, and to the work of the Army Medical College at Chatham. In 1858 she published her Notes on Nursing, which gave an enormous stimulus to the study of this subject in England. According to Miss Nightingale nursing ought to signify the proper use of fresh air, light, warmth, cleanliness, quiet, and the selection and administration of diet - all at the least expense of vital force to the patient.

Miss Nightingale followed with interest all the later improvements in sanitation, and was frequently consulted about hospital plans both at home and abroad. With the help of the County Council Technical Instruction Committee she organized in 1892 a health crusade in Buckinghamshire. Teachers were sent round among the cottagers to give practical advice on such points as ventilation, drainage, disinfectants, cleanliness, &c., a plan which, if widely carried out, would bring the most valuable knowledge to every home in England. She is understood to have drawn up a confidential report for the government on the working of the Army Medical Corps in the Crimea, and to have been officially consulted during the American Civil War and the Franco-German War. In 1907 she received the Order of Merit from King Edward VII. She died in London on the 13th of August 1910. She is the subject of a beautiful poem by Longfellow, "Santa Filomena," and the popular estimate of her character and mission was summed up in a particularly felicitous anagram, Flit on, cheering angel.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Florence Nightingale'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica.​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​f/florence-nightingale.html. 1910.