Have you ever considered how hospitals and sanitary health care practice was developed? Or how health education was established and provided? Women play a crucial role in the development of our world, especially in health care. Today, I will be educating you on the founder of nursing, “The Lady with the Lamp,” Florence Nightingale.
Florence was born on May 12th, 1820 in Florence, Italy. From a very young age, Florence was active in philanthropy by supporting the ill and poor from the neighboring village. By the time she turned 16, she knew being a nurse was her purpose. A purpose we would never be able to forget.
However, her parents opposed her decision. In the Victorian era, young women like Florence were expected to marry a man of stature—not take up a job which, at the time, was considered low class. However, Florence would not give up on her ambition. She refused a marriage proposal at 17 years old to embark on a journey that would change the world. Soon after, Florence enrolled as a nursing student at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Germany.
In the early 1850s, Florence took up a nursing job in Middlesex Hospital and excelled compassionately. Her performance there was so impressive that she was promoted within a year of being hired. From here, Florence grappled with the Cholera outbreak in which unsanitary conditions resulted in rapid spread of the disease. Florence made it her mission to improve hygiene practice, significantly lowering the death rate in the hospital. Florence realized how crucial basic hygiene was to saving lives, and how infrequent it was in the hospital environment. This hard work took a toll on her health; however, saving just one hospital was not enough.
In October of 1853, the Crimean War tragedy needed help with fighting the appallingly unsanitary and inhumane conditions alongside insufficient medical supply. Florence received a letter from the Secretary of War requesting for her assistance, and a few days later, she sailed to Crimea with her assembled team of 34 nurses.
Nothing could have prepared the nurses for the horrid conditions upon their arrival. The hospital sat on top of a large cesspool, which contaminated not only the water, but the whole hospital building itself. Patients lay in stretchers strewn through hallways without medical attention. Rodents and bugs scurried around patients and the number of ill people steadily increased. More and more patients were dying from illnesses related to unsanitary conditions than the actual war itself.
Florence quickly set to work. She procured lots of cleaning equipment to scrub the hospital clean day and night. In the evenings, she moved through the dark hallways with a lamp to care for patient after patient. The soldiers who were touched by Florence’s endless compassion, named her the “Lady with the Lamp.” Her dedication reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds!
When Florence returned to her hometown after battling the war for a year-and-a-half, she was given a hero’s welcome. The Queen rewarded Florence with an engraved brooch and a $250,000 prize from the British government. With the Queen’s support, Florence helped create a Royal Commission into the health of the army. What they found was mortifying; 18,000 of the deaths were caused by preventable diseases, and not battle.
Florence decided to use her prize money towards her purpose. In 1860, she funded the establishment of St. Thomas’ Hospital, and within it, the Nightingale Training School of Nurses. She recognized that nurses were receiving extremely inadequate education. Many women from upper classes were empowered by Florence and enrolled in the training school. Due to Florence’s strong-willed initiatives, nursing was no longer looked down upon. Nursing was a career of honour.
During her time at the Crimean War, Florence had contracted the Crimean fever, and would never fully recover. At the age of merely 38 years, Florence was bed bound for the remainder of her life. Fiercely determined to improve healthcare, Florence continued to work from her bed. She passed away in 1910 from illness at the age of 90. She passed in good spirits.
As a nursing student myself, I am genuinely inspired by all of Florence Nightingale’s efforts. Her compassion, dedication, and strong-will will never cease to amaze me. She was a woman of power who advocated for her patients, sacrificing her own health for the cause.