Florence Nightingale: A Luminary in The 19th-Century Medical World.
Broke social conventions.
Passion for nursing.
Florence Nightingale forever changed the face of nursing for women and healthcare in 19th century England. She was a luminous revolutionary of 19th century England and established the first nursing school for women in England. She was a woman who lived by her own rules rather than living according to the iron expectations handed down to her by her socialite family. She revolutionized the face of nursing in England and in 1860, she founded the first nursing school for women in London.
But her path was not without resistance. The youngest of three children, she was from an extremely wealthy and well-connected family. Her mother, Frances Nightingale was always concerned about social climbing as she came from a family of merchants.
Her father, William Nightingale, was a wealthy landowner who was concerned with education and culture. He insisted that Florence and her sister learned German, French, and Italian, Latin, and Greek white their mother was more concerned about their social ascension. Florence received the education of a man.
Due to her social background, she was expect to marry a man of her status and procreate.
Yet, Florence chose to go against her family’s expectations of being just a wife and mother. She decided to become a nurse, a career she saw as a God-given vocation.
She was strong-willed and defied her mother’s controlling ways. Florence avoided being the center of attention at social events and felt like a rather awkward girl. From a very young age, She wanted things other girls didn’t want, had interests that no girls of her status and age even thought about.
She was called the iron maiden.
From the age of 6, Florence felt she was quite like a strange, odd animal unlike anyone else in her family or her social clan. She often avoided dining downstairs in the fear of doing something socially awkward and frowned upon. She felt an anger and profound discontentment with the classic female role in society. Her mother and sister were conventional but she was clever and rebellious. Women at the time, especially in her rank were socially avaricious, intellectually laidback, and emotional immature.
When she was 17, she felt God spoke to her and called to her to her vocation: “On February 7 1837, God spoke to me and called me to his service.”
Florence refused to marry several suitors, and at the age of twenty-five told her parents she wanted to become a nurse. Her parents were totally opposed to the idea as nursing was associated with working class women: Nursing was associated with low social status at the time.
She sacrificed her “passional” nature to her moral ideals. She was never convinced that marrying and having children could facilitate her calling. She wanted to remain entirely free to fulfill her mission but it came at a cost though. She said in 1852, ” 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.”
By late 1843, she was already nursing the sick poor in nearby villages. The following Summer, Florence met Dr. Ward Howe, who told her to follow her heart despite what others wanted her to pursue.
“There never was any vagueness in my plans or ideas as to what God’s work was for me.”
Nightingale chose not to marry because she held fast to an ideal, to an ideal of her own. She sacrificed her “passional” nature to her moral ideals. She was never convinced that marrying and having children could facilitate her calling. She wanted to remain entirely free to fulfill her mission but it came at a cost though.
She said in 1852 that “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.”
It would not be until 1851 that Florence’s father would give her permission to train as a nurse. She had been studying secretly, visiting sick hospitals unbeknownst to her parents who still didn’t approve of her life choices.
In October 1853, the Crimean war broke out and there were no female nurses allowed on the front lines. Over 18,000 soldiers were injured. Female nurses had had a bad reputation in the past so they stopped hiring them. Until Nightingale came along, nurses were picked from prostitutes, maids, and widows. Women who served as nurses did not have any medical training at the time. In late 1854, she was asked to assemble a team of effective nurses to come to the front and tend to the injured at the British base in Constantinople. Soldiers were dying from infections such as cholera and typhoid, and Florence immediately ordered the sanitization of the hospitals and her hard work paid off: the death rate dropped by almost 70%.
Nightingale didn’t deny that higher social status had its merits for administrators in nursing, but she argued that working-class nurses could provide equally excellent care despite their lack of formal education. She also pointed out that nurses weren’t “dictionaries,” and that passing a written exam did not necessarily indicate that someone would make a good nurse: “Some of our best could not pass an examination with credit, while some of our worst could gain the most credible place.” She advocated for better training of middle-class nurses instead.
In 1859, she earned the Royal Red Cross from the Queen and a grant of 45,000 pounds that she would use to create a training school for nurses.