Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy, while her wealthy parents were on a tour of Europe. She was named after the city where she was born.
Florence’s father was a landowner. Florence was raised on the family estate at Lea Hurst, England. Her father taught her Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, history, philosophy, and mathematics. Like most upper-class mothers at this time, Frances Nightingale expected her daughters to marry, look after a home, and maybe do some charity work. Florence thought there was more to life.
When she was growing up, she helped take care of poor and sick people in the village near her family’s estate. When she was 17, Florence felt God wanted her to be a nurse. In Victorian England, most nurses were uneducated and thought to be of questionable morals, so her parents did not want her to be a nurse. Hospital conditions at that time were terrible. Doctors did operations with no anesthetic, and many people who went to hospitals died.
Florence began to visit hospitals. In 1849–50, she was in Egypt where two St. Vincent de Paul sisters showed her their hospital in Alexandria. Florence saw that nurses and hospitals could be much better than they were in England.
In 1851, her parents finally gave her permission to study nursing. She went to the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany for four months of training. When she came back to England, a rich friend asked Florence to run a London hospital for “invalid gentlewomen.” There was no pay, so her father gave her an annual income of £500 (about $68,000 today). This meant she could live comfortably and pursue her career. She made lots of important changes at the hospital.
In 1854, Russia invaded Turkey and the Crimean War began. Britain, France, and Turkey fought Russia. Sidney Herbert, the British war minister, asked Florence to supervise a team of 38 nurses at the military hospital in Scutari, Turkey. The hospital was overcrowded and filthy. Soldiers were not washed and lay on the floor because there were not enough beds. They had to eat moldy bread. There were no proper toilets. Drains were blocked. Rats and insects ran everywhere. The smell was terrible. Without good food, clean bandages, clean beds, and clean water, many died from diseases. Florence and her nurses greatly improved the conditions and many more soldiers survived. She earned the name “The Lady with the Lamp” because she would visit soldiers at night with a small lantern in her hand.
When she returned to England, the Queen presented her with an engraved brooch that is known as the “Nightingale Jewel” and granted her $250,000 from the British government. Florence used the money to start the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in London. Trained nurses were sent to hospitals all over Britain. They introduced her ideas and trained others. Florence Nightingale never really recovered from the physical strain of the Crimean War. She almost never left home, and she stayed in bed much of the time, but she continued to fight for reform of military hospitals and medical care. She died in London, England, on August 13, 1910.