Florence Nightingale Quotes

1820 - 1910

Florence Nightingale - Crimea Hospital
Florence Nightingale - Crimea Hospital. Print Collector / Getty Images

A pioneer in the nursing field, Florence Nightingale established herself as a competent nursing administrator during the Crimean War, where her insistence on sanitary conditions cut the death rate considerably. She continued to advance the field in her later years, providing better health service and opportunities for women at the same time.

Born into an upper-class British family in 1820, Florence had an unusually liberal upbringing, with both her parents interested in humanitarian causes; her grandfather had been a prominent abolitionist. Despite this, even their outlook had its limits: they were horrified when Florence, as a young woman, declared that she intended to become a nurse and believed she was called to do so by God. Nevertheless, she pursued her education, rebelling against societal expectations that she would become a wife and mother and instead devoting her life to her career.

Florence traveled extensively throughout Europe and even went as far as Egypt; she later published many of her writings from this era. Eventually, she returned to London and became the superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen.

It was in 1854 that her career changed forever, when word got to England about the horrific conditions in hospitals in the Ottoman Empire during the Crimean War. The unsanitary medical conditions were causing more deaths than the injuries warranted, but under Florence's hygiene guidance - and her pleas sent back to England for government assistance to improve conditions - the death rate plummeted from 42% to approximately 2%.

After the war, she returned to Britain, where she received funds to start a nursing school. She also wrote Notes on Nursing, a seminal text that emphasized hygiene and sanitation above all else. Thanks to Florence's innovations, connections, and sheer determination, nursing transformed from a job done by untrained women who just needed work to a trained, formal profession.

Selected Florence Nightingale Quotations

  • Rather, ten times, die in the surf, heralding the way to a new world, than stand idly on the shore.
  • Let whoever is in charge keep this simple question in her head (not, how can I always do this right thing myself, but) how can I provide for this right thing to be always done?
  • Women never have a half-hour in all their lives (excepting before or after anybody is up in the house) that they can call their own, without fear of offending or of hurting someone. Why do people sit up so late, or, more rarely, get up so early? Not because the day is not long enough, but because they have 'no time in the day to themselves.' [1852]
  • And so is the world put back by the death of every one who has to sacrifice the development of his or her peculiar gifts (which were meant, not for selfish gratification, but for the improvement of that world) to conventionality. [1852]
  • It may seem a strange principle to enunciate as the very first requirement in a Hospital that it should do the sick no harm. [1859]
  • I did not think of going to give myself a position, but for the sake of common humanity. [about her Crimean war service]
  • Nursing is become a profession. Trained Nursing no longer an object but a fact. But oh, if home Nursing could become an everyday fact here in this big city of London.... [1900]
  • I can stand out the war with any man.
  • I stand at the altar of the murdered men, and, while I live, I fight their cause. [1856]
  • Never dispute with anybody who wishes to contradict you, says a most reasonable saint. For even if you are victorious, yours ifs the loss. [1873]
  • Asceticism is the trifling of an enthusiast with his power, a puerile coquetting with his selfishness or his vanity, in the absence of any sufficiently great object to employ the first or overcome the last. [1857]
  • No man, not even a doctor, ever gives any other definition of what a nurse should be than this -- 'devoted and obedient.' This definition would do just as well for a porter. It might even do for a horse. It would not do for a policeman. [1859]
  • While my dear mother loses her memory (consciously, alas! to herself) she gains in every thing else -- in truth of view, in real memory of the phases of the past, in appreciation of her great blessings, in happiness, real content and cheerfulness -- and in lovingness. I am quite sure that, during the nearly half-century in which I have known her, I have never seen her any thing like so good, so happy, so wise or so really true as she is now. [letter, about 1870]
  • For what is Mysticism? Is it not the attempt to draw near to God, not by rites or ceremonies, but by inward disposition? Is it not merely a hard word for 'The Kingdom of Heaven is within'? Heaven is neither a place nor a time. [1873]
  • Mankind must make heaven before we can "go to heaven" (as the phrase is), in this world as in any other. [1873]
  • To be a fellow worker with God is the highest aspiration of which we can conceive man capable. [1873]
  • I am of certain convinced that the greatest heroes are those who do their duty in the daily grind of domestic affairs whilst the world whirls as a maddening dreidel.
  • You ask me why I do not write something.... I think one's feelings waste themselves in words, they ought all to be distilled into actions and into actions which bring results.

Selected Sources

  • Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing: What Nursing Is, What Nursing is Not. Philadelphia, London, Montreal: J.B. Lippincott Co. 1946 Reprint. First published London, 1859: Harrison & Sons.
  • Nightingale, Florence; McDonald, Lynn. Florence Nightingale's Spiritual Journey: Biblical Annotations, Sermons and Journal Notes. Collected Works of Florence Nighingale (Editor Lynn McDonald). Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2001.
  • Florence Nightingale's Theology: Essays, Letters and Journal Notes. Collected Works of Florence Nighingale (Editor Lynn McDonald). Ontario, Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press. 2002.