Who was Florence Nightingale? - Biography, Facts & Contributions

Instructor: Jayne Yenko

Jayne has taught health/nutrition and education at the college level and has a master's degree in education.

Today, we think of nurses as competent professionals. That wasn't always the case. During the mid-1800's, the nursing profession had a pitiful reputation as a job for poor, drunk women with bad language and even worse attitude towards patients. It took the efforts of people like Florence Nightingale, nurse, statistician, and social reformer, to move the profession into what it is today.

Florence Nightingale
Florence Nightingale


Florence Nightingale joined her parents and older sister Francis when she was born in Florence, Italy on May 12, 1820. Her parents were on an extended honeymoon tour and the family returned to England in 1821. Her family was rich, upper-class, and very well connected. Nightingale was a precocious child, and her father taught her philosophy, languages, and mathematics. Nightingale did not care for the traditional roles available for women, preferring to have serious debates on social and political issues with her father.

Unfortunately, Nightingale's family did not approve of nursing as a position for women of her social standing. She persisted in her chosen vocation, and eventually trained for three months at a hospital in Germany in 1853. That same year she became superintendent of a hospital for women in London.

Nightingale was reported to have been an attractive young woman. After a nine-year courtship with the poet and politician Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, Nightingale decided that marriage would interfere with her nursing. Although Milnes was rejected, he was one of Nightingale's strongest supporters, along with Sidney Herbert, who was secretary of state at war for England.

Due to an outcry based on a report in the London Times claiming wounded soldiers were treated poorly and basic supplies were lacking, Herbert asked Nightingale to assist the injured and ill soldiers of the Crimean War. Nightingale took a delegation of 38 nurses to Turkey. During her stay there, Nightingale contracted what is believed to be brucellosis. There was no cure, and she suffered its symptoms until her death at age 90.


A timeline of Nightingale's life:

• Born May 12, 1820 in Florence, Italy.

• Undertook nurse's training in Germany in 1853.

• Arrived in Scutari, Turkey during the Crimean War in 1854.

• Became a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society in 1858.

• She published over 200 books, reports and pamphlets on hospital planning and organization. Her most famous 'Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not' from 1859 is still in print today.

• Established the first professional training school for nurses at St. Thomas' Hospital in 1860.

• Established a School of Midwifery nursing at King's College Hospital in 1862.

• Became an honorary member of the American Statistical Association in 1874.

• Received the Royal Red Cross from Queen Victoria in 1883.

• Was the first woman awarded the Freedom of the City of London in 1909.

• Inspired the founding of the International Red Cross, which still awards the Florence Nightingale Medal to nurses who have given exceptional care to the sick and/or wounded.

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