Person Female Born 12/5/1820 Died 13/8/1910
Nurse, statistician, author. Born in Italy (go on, guess which city) while her parents were on the grand tour. Her sister was born one year earlier in Naples, and named Frances Parthenope, the Greek form of 'Naples', of course. From a rich, well-connected family she should have married well and settled down, but that was not in her make-up, she wanted to 'do' something important, despite her family's, initial, disapproval.
Already a (religious) committed nurse, she heard about the horrific conditions of the soldiers in the Crimean War and went with a staff of 38 other nurses to Scutari, Turkey, 330 miles from the British Camp at Balaklava. The high death rate at Scutari was largely due to unsanitary conditions; 10 soldiers died of diseases to every one that died of battle wounds. This was not improved until the government sent a Sanitary Commission to the hospital, 6 months after Nightingale had arrived. The incompetence of the army war machine was largely due to the Duke of Cambridge's influence. Back in Britain she analysed the figures and understood the importance of sanitary living conditions which she promoted through the rest of her career. She was a powerful woman with a domineering streak, but as a woman she was prevented from doing many things directly and had to achieve many of her objectives through men. Statistics were one of her tools and she was a pioneer in the use of graphical analysis as a call to action and her report to Parliament contained a very early use of the rose diagram. In 1859 she published 'Notes on Nursing' which was a basis for the formation of the modern nursing profession.
Never married but had courtships with men, and warm friendships and working relationships with both men and women. Ruth writes “- I think she avoided marriage because she was intensely focused on doing something in her own life, which marriage/children would have precluded. Her parents groomed her intensively for a high society marriage, and she avoided it. Eventually her father relented and gave her a private income so she could achieve what it was she was so intent upon. The income gave her enormous freedom, which she used for the public good. I think she was extraordinary, a very special person, and a feminist way ahead of her time. She was an extraordinary role model, too. She beat a path for women, and dignified caring for other human beings in a way it had not been dignified before, and by that I do not mean by improving the social profile of nursing by 'ladies' - she despised that kind of social demarcation - whether women were good or bad nurses according to her, was nothing to do with their social origins.”
On her return from the Crimea she suffered from a long-term, at the time undiagnosed, illness. Ruth writes: "She went through periods of being well, and other periods of severe debility, when she was bed-ridden. Brucellosis causes sciatica and paralysis/collapse of the legs, it was an intracellular parasite, and a long-term infection such as she had (nowadays it can be cured with antibiotics) has manifestations in every part of the body, including the joints, eyes, organs... She was really very ill at times. The other name for the disease is undulant fever - it comes and goes. It was from bed that she carried on her research and campaigning work.
So, between periods of severe illness, she devoted herself to the investigation of the catastrophic failings of the British Army's attitudes to its own fighting men, trying to ensure that never again would a war nurse be accused (as she had been) of 'pampering the brutes'. She regarded the thousands of unnecessary deaths in the Crimea as a terrible blot on our history, and did everything she could to change the command structure so medical and surgical care for the troops would be considered as important as armaments. Similar lessons seem to have to be learned in every conflict.
Miss Nightingale also worked to improve nursing in this country, and established a nurse training school - still going today - at St Thomas's Hospital. She theorized and campaigned for the better design of hospitals, and worked to prevent overcrowding in workhouses and workhouse infirmaries. She also worked indefatigably to improve clean water supplies and sanitation in India, while the British were in control of the government there. She believed every life sacred, whatever social class the person. Many in the British ruling class were not of the same mind."
Died at home at 10 South Street W1 (photo of her shortly before death) and was buried alongside her parents at St Margaret's, East Wellow, near her parent's home, Embley Park in Hampshire. Maternal grandfather was William Smith. The annual International Nurses Day is celebrated on her birthday. There is a museum at St Thomas’ Hospital.
2017: Our text above has been corrected and improved by our friend and colleague, Ruth Richardson, who has been researching Nightingale as part of the campaign to save the Nightingale wards at the old Cleveland Street Hospital.