Florence Nightingale

British Nurse Brought Important Innovations to Medicine

Illustration of Florence Nightingale in a Crimean War hospital
Florence Nightingale depicted in a Crimean War hospital. Getty Images

Florence Nightingale achieved great fame in the mid-1800s as "The Lady With the Lamp" after her service as a nurse in the Crimean War. Though she spent much of her life housebound with illness, she campaigned for reforms in nursing and was a vocal proponent of sanitation practices.

The British Army adopted many of her proposals, and her ideas eventually became standard practices throughout the world.

Simple sanitary practices, such as hand washing, were promoted by Nightingale and became commonplace in modern society. And her name practically became synonymous with nursing.

Early Life

Born in Italy to wealthy British parents on May 12, 1820, Florence Nightingale seemed destined to a life of privilege. Her parents, who owned an estate in England, were fixtures of society.

Young Florence rebelled against the life of her family, and became determined to serve society. She developed an ambition to work in hospitals. Her family was horrified, as nursing, in the early 1800s, was not considered a respectable profession.

Florence stubbornly clung to her wishes, worked as a private nurse, and attended a nursing school in Germany.

Crimean War Service

In 1853, Florence Nightingale became the director of a small charitable hospital in London. It gave her a chance to use not only her nurse's training but her ability at organization and administration.

When Britain went to war against Russia, Nightingale, through the intercession of a British official she knew, was invited to travel to the Crimea. She brought along 38 nurses.

In November 1854 Nightingale and her party arrived in Constantinople, and discovered appalling conditions at the British Army hospital at Scutari.

"The Lady With the Lamp"

In the Crimea, Nightingale was able to get officers to accept her and her band of nurses. However, the prevailing attitude of the time was that common soldiers were of lower classes and did not deserve comfort or proper medical attention.

Nightingale struggled to change that archaic attitude, and with funds raised through a campaign with the London Times, she was able to provide medical supplies to the wounded troops.

She soon became legendary as a compassionate nurse, and was dubbed "The Lady With the Lamp." While she did do some nursing, her real contributions were organizational.

Quietly Exerted Power

After the Crimean War, Nightingale returned to Britain. While she was now considered a national hero, she rejected the accolades and preferred to work behind the scenes.

She wrote pamphlets and books urging reforms in the way the British military treated sick and wounded soldiers, and she even lobbied Queen Victoria and Prince Albert.

Nightingale set up a school for nurses, and also campaigned for reforms in sanitation as a way of stopping the spread of disease.

Illness and a Reclusive Life

The time spent near the front during the Crimean War took a physical toll, and Nightingale's health declined in the late 1850s.

By 1861 she seldom left her room, though she continued to write and issue statements and reports.

Despite her withdrawal from public life, her ideas about sanitation in British India gained currency. And her book Notes on Nursing greatly influenced the emerging nursing profession.

She continued to write and influence policies, and despite her chronic illness, she lived to the age of 90. She died on August 13, 1910.