Florence Nightingale was born on 12 May 1820 in Florence, Italy the year after Queen Victoria was born. She was raised in Derbyshire, England. She was not educated at a school but at home by her father where she was given a classical education which was unusual for a girl.
When Florence was young she was very interested in nursing and in 1849 she started studying hospital systems in England and in Europe. In 1850 she began training as a nurse at the Institute of St Vincent de Paul in Alexandria, Egypt. It was a Roman Catholic hospital. After that she went to Paris, France and then she finished her studies at the Institute for Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserwerth, Germany.
Florence was so well trained that she became superintendent of the Hospital for Invalid Gentlewomen in London in 1853.
In 1854 the Crimean war broke out. When Florence read about the appalling conditions at the British Hospital barracks she immediately wrote to the British Secretary of War volunteering her services to work in the hospitals. Unaware of this the Minister of War was proposing that she should take charge of all nursing operations at the War front.
Florence set off with 38 British nurses for Scutari (now part of Istanbul, Turkey) and found the following shocking conditions.
1. The men can lie in filth for 2 weeks before being seen by a doctor. 2. The men are lying on unwashed floors. 3. The floors are covered in virmin and lice. 4. Few men have blankets or pillows. 5. They rest their heads on boots and use overcoats for blankets. 6. Operations are carried out in full view of everyone. The screams of people having limbs cut off is terrible. 7. There are 1000 men in the hospital, many with diarrhoea, a serious problem when there are only 20 chamber pots! 8. The toilets overflow onto the floor and men without shoes or slippers have to paddle through this. 9. Amputated limbs are dumped outside to be eaten by dogs. 10. Men are surviving the battles and being killed by the hospitals
Florence and her nurses then began to set up efficient nursing departments both there and at Balaklava on the Crimean Peninsula. She imposed strict sanitary and nursing standards. As a result of this and by her hard work the number of soldiers that died from their wounds or from illnesses such as typhus, cholera and dysentery was greatly reduced from 42% to just 2%. Her patients called her the "Lady with the Lamp" because of her nightly rounds.
After the war ended in 1856 Florence went on to obtain improved living conditions for soldiers. Florence's work during the war had been reported in the newspapers and a fund was set up which raised £50,000. In 1860 with this money she was able to found the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses at St. Thomas's Hospital in London where nurses could receive a professional education for the first time. Before this nurses were untrained and nursing was considered a menial chore but after Florence Nightingale nursing became a respectable and responsible career.
Between 1858 and 1861 Florence wrote and got published the first definitive textbooks on nursing, hospitals and Army medical care. These books were published in many different languages. She received many honours from foreign governments and in 1907 she was the first female to receive the British Order of Merit.
For 30 years she worked to establish nursing schools all over England but she was no longer able to take part in nursing tasks herself since her own health had been ruined during her service in the Crimean War. Florence Nightingale died on 13 August 1910 at the age of 90, having lived through the whole of the Victorian Age.
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