delanceyplace.com 3/16/10 - florence nightingale
In today's excerpt - Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a British citizen who,
depressed and uneasy with the opulent circumstances of her upbringing, found her
life's calling in elevating the profession of nursing worldwide. Though initially
unwelcome, she came to prominence during the Crimean War and was dubbed "The Lady
with the Lamp" after her habit of making rounds at night to tend injured soldiers.
Nightingale laid the foundation stone of professional nursing with the principles
summarized in the book Notes on Nursing:
"Florence Nightingale was born in the Italian city which named her in 1820.
Her early life is nowadays popularly presumed to have been comfortably unexceptional.
In fact her father was a well-off Sheffield banker's son who inherited a large fortune
from a Derbyshire uncle. That he could afford to buy a second country estate of
4,000 acres, Embley Park in Hampshire, for £125,000 in 1825, proclaimed enormous
wealth. ... The company there certainly sparkled for the house guests at Embley
included the political heavyweight Lord Palmerston, the future seventh Earl of
Shaftsbury who introduced Florence to the 'delights' of government statistics, the
mathematician Charles Babbage and Charles Darwin. ...
"Florence would later use her family's wealth and connections to good advantage.
But inwardly she was anything but at ease. Predisposed to ill-health and depression,
increasingly uneasy with the opulence around her, and above all frustrated that
her talents were being honed for no practical purpose, her teens and twenties were
often desperately unhappy. ... [Then] Britain and France declared war on Russia
in March 1854.
"On 20 September 1854, Allied forces gained victory over the Russians at the Battle
of the River Alma. Like many however, Nightingale was moved less by stories of soldierly
heroism than by reports of the privations suffered by the wounded. In his report
of 13 October to The Times, William Howard Russell focused specifically on hospital
conditions 'worthy only of the savages of Dahomey.' Army nursing was, as it always
had been, carried out by a mixture of male army pensioners and troops who were convalescing.
The superior French medical provision, by contrast, included Sisters of Charity.
'These devoted women,' Russell informed the British public, 'are excellent nurses,'
... The government was stung into action and [family friend] Sidney Herbert was
Secretary at War. On 21 October he proposed that she head a nursing party at government
expense. There was, he added, 'but one person in England that I know of who would
be capable of organizing such a scheme.' Serene whilst those around her flustered,
Nightingale left London on 21 October as Superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment
in the English General Military Hospitals in Turkey. With her went 38 volunteers.
"Nightingale's party, entered the largest British base hospital in the war, the
Barrack Hospital at Scutari, in Turkey, on 4 November. It was immediately clear
that they were unwelcome with many in the army and medical hierarchy. Nightingale
responded by setting her charges to work on such useful menial tasks as making bandages
and scrubbing floors. Yet four days later, overwhelmed by the influx of casualties
from the Battle of Inkerman, doctors summoned their assistance.
"Over the next weeks Nightingale's legend was born. A 15-20 hour working day was
not untypical for her. She was literally 'hands on', whether killing rats or assisting
with amputations. Soon her nurses were tending over 2,000 patients in beds I8 inches
apart. John Macdonald of The Times immortalized her as 'a ministering angel' ...
in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor,
every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her'. In the midst
of a military campaign whose progress was equivocal her success could be reported
R.E. Forster, "Florence Nightingale: Icon and Iconoclast," History Review, No. 66,