"Florence Nightingale--LADY WITH THE LAMP"

by Stan Griffin

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy on May 12, 1820. She was from a wealthy British family who were living in Italy at the time. Her early years were spent on their estates in England. She and her sister were taught the social graces, how to run a large household, and were tutored in language, history, and philosophy.

At the age of 16, Florence reported she heard God telling her she had a special life mission to help other people. From then on she spent most of her time looking after visitorsí babies, tending to sick farmers on family-owned property, and eventually working in hospitals. Her parents objected on the grounds that it was not "proper behavior." She had no time for parties or suitors.

Florence attended the Institution of Deaconnesses, a Protestant school for training nurses, at Kaiserswerth, near Dusseldorf, Germany and also studied in Paris. At the age of 33, she became superintendent of Londonís Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen.

The following year Britain and France went to war against Russia in the Crimea (now part of the Ukraine). English people were outraged when they heard how wounded soldiers were being neglected there. The British Secretary of War asked Florence to take charge of nursing their men.

Florence and 38 other nurses landed in Scutari (across from Istanbul, Turkey) in late 1854. They found a barracks hospital that was dirty and rat-infested. It lacked many necessities including cots, mattresses, bandages, washbasins, soap, and towels. Decent sanitation was not in evidence: no adequate drains, working lavatories, or even clean water. There was no kitchen or laundry room.

The nurses arrived just after the battle of Balaklava in which 250 British soldiers were killed or wounded in 20 minutes. Halls were filled with injured men. Florence and her nurses scrubbed the building until it was spotless. A nursing schedule for patient care was set up. Florence aggressively requested supplies from military officials, writing many letters and reports. She was known by some of them as "Lady With the Hammer" because she occasionally broke into supply rooms to get materials for her patients. Her attitude caused resentment among generals and doctors at first, but eventually they came to respect the nursesí efforts and professional skills.

Patients received top-notch nursing care. At night, Florence was frequently seen walking through miles of hallways with a lamp, checking on the patients. (This was the origin of her name: "Lady With the Lamp.") It was said that men would kiss her shadow when it happened to fall on their pillows.

During a visit to the front lines, Florence became seriously ill. For 12 days she lingered near death. When Florence recovered, friends urged her to return to England for a rest. Her response was that she was " ... ready to stand out the war with any man."

Soon Florence was put in charge of all British Army hospitals in the Crimea. By the end of the war, she was responsible for saving many lives and establishing reforms in nursing and hospital administration.

Florence returned to England in 1856. Her health had been irretrievably damaged in the Crimea; and she became a semi-invalid, leaving her home only infrequently. She was visited by heads of government, ministers, authors, reformers, and politicians.

Florence continued her efforts in the health care field by continual study, constant reading, and correspondence. She wrote long reports on the subject for the British War Department. Through her efforts, Royal Commissions were appointed on Health of the Army (1857) and Health in India (1859). She became a world authority on the scientific care of the sick. Even the United States asked for help in setting up military hospitals during the Civil War.

In 1860 Florence founded the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas Ďs Hospital in London. "It formed the basis of nursing today." Florence received many honors. She was the first woman to be awarded the British Order of Merit.

For the last 14 years of her life, she never left her home. She was almost blind during the final nine years; and in the last six months, she was unable to speak. Florence Nightingale died on August 13, 1910. By this time, there were nursing schools based on her system in 20 countries around the world.

Before Florence Nightingale, nurses were no better than servants performing jobs like washing linen, lighting fires, and cooking. Most came from lower classes with no formal knowledge of medicine and were often characterized as drunken, dirty, and idle. Miss Nightingale "made it possible for women of any class to care for the sick (at) a salary they didnít need be ashamed to take."

Her perseverence in teaching, writing, persuading, and arguing led to an astonishing legacy.. "What angel could have done more?"

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