Florence Nightingale; born 12 May 1820 – died 13 August 1910 was a celebrated English social reformer and statistician, and the founder of modern nursing. She came to prominence while serving as a manager of nurses trained by her during the Crimean War, where she organised the tending to wounded soldiers. She gave nursing a highly favourable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture, especially in the persona of ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ attending to wounded soldiers throughout the night.
Florence Nightingale played a crucial role in professionalising nursing roles for women. In 1860, Nightingale laid the foundation of professional nursing with the establishment of her nursing school at St Thomas' Hospital in London – nurses even now who train at St Thomas’ refer to themselves as ‘Nightingales’. It was the first secular nursing school in the world and now forms part of King's College London. The Nightingale Pledge taken by new nurses was named in her honour, and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday. Her social reforms include improving healthcare for all sections of British society, advocating better hunger relief in India, helping to abolish prostitution laws that were over-harsh to women, and expanding the acceptable forms of female participation in the workforce.
Nightingale was a prodigious and versatile writer. In her lifetime, much of her published work was concerned with spreading medical knowledge. Some of her tracts were written in simple English so that they could easily be understood by those with poor literary skills. She also helped popularise the graphical presentation of statistical data.
The legacy of Florence Nightingale is long standing, nurses across the world still take the Nightingale Pledge, International Nurses Day happens each year on the 12th May and the Florence Nightingale Foundation hosts a commemoration service at Westminster Abbey for over 2000 nurses from across the UK and around the world. When Ms Nightingale died she wanted to leave a legacy that would keep impacting on nurses and so the Florence Nightingale Foundation was founded following her death.
Poem published in Evening News, 16th August 1910, and quoted in Nursing Notes, 1st September 1910, p.212, following Florence's death:
At Chelsea, under the lime-tree’s stir,
I read the news to a Pensioner,
That a noble lord and a judge were dead –
‘They were younger men than me’, he said.
I read again of another death;
The old man turned, and caught his breath –
‘She’s gone?’ he said; ‘she too? In camp
We called her the Lady of the Lamp’.
He would not listen to what I read,
But wanted it certain – ‘The Lady’s dead?’
I showed it to him, to remove his doubt,
And added, unthinking, ‘The Lamp is out’.
He rose – and I had to help him stand –
Then, as he saluted with trembling hand,
I was abashed to hear him say,
‘The Lamp she lit is alight to-day.’