10 Facts About Florence Nightingale You Might Not Know

Florence Nightingale

How “the founder of modern nursing” helped build the profession

By Jennifer Larson, contributor

More than 100 years after her death, Florence Nightingale is still well known for her reforms that shaped the nursing profession, as well as her work, Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not. The International Red Cross still awards the Florence Nightingale Medal to nurses who give superior care. 

RELATED: Three Ways to Be a Better Nurse

Did you know these 10 Florence Nightingale facts?

1. She has her own museum.  If you ever find yourself near the St. Thomas Hospital in London, just a short walk away from the Houses of Parliament, be sure to visit the Florence Nightingale Museum. London is also home to the Florence Nightingale Foundation, which supports the professional development of nurses and midwives. 

2. Her birthday is also International Nurses Day. We remember the extraordinary contributions by remembering Florence Nightingale on her birthday, which is the same day that we celebrate International Nurses Day: May 12.  Florence was born in 1820 in Florence, Italy, and died on August 13, 1910, at her home in London. 

3. She was well-acquainted with challenging working conditions. Early in her career, Florence served as superintendent of the Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances in London. The patients weren’t the only ones that were distressed—the hospital itself was in very poor condition. Her staff wasn’t well trained, either. But as Louise Selanders and Patrick Crane wrote in “The Voice of Florence Nightingale on Advocacy,” “[I]t was the opportunity to participate in a healthcare situation under her control that allowed her to create and utilize environmental and patient care standards that were to become foundational to the development of modern nursing.”

4. She took on a significant role during the Crimean War. Florence worked in London in the early 1850s, but in 1854, the British Secretary of War asked her to organize a nursing corps to serve the wounded soldiers in Crimea. The region was the center of a war between Russia and an alliance of England, France, Sardinia and Turkey. At the time, there were no women working as nurses in the hospitals in Crimea, but that changed when Florence arrived with her newly formed group of nurses. 

5. Her nickname is “Lady with the Lamp.” When Florence Nightingale arrived with a team of nurses at a British field hospital during the Crimean War, the injured soldiers were almost overwhelmed with gratitude for the care they received. She was known for patrolling the hospital wards at night with her lamp. Some also called her “the Angel of Crimea.”

6. She inspired a famous poem. The great poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem titled “Santa Filomena” in which a wounded man in a field hospital sees a “lady with a lamp.” He imagined that her lovely vision would live on throughout history as “A noble type of good/heroic womanhood.”

7. Nightingale struggled with illness for much of her life. While she was serving at Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople during the Crimean War, she contacted the bacterial infection known as Crimean fever. She was often bedridden over the course of her life, as she never fully recovered from the infection. Yet she didn’t let her illness keep her from pursuing her professional goals and changing the course of the nursing profession. 

8. A training school for nurses was established in her honor. In 1860, a new nursing school opened at the St. Thomas Hospital in London. Although she did not take on the role of superintendent of the new Nightingale School and Home for Nurses, she supported its development and the principle of training well-educated, professional nurses who would have a specific role in the health care system. Today, the school is known as the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery. 

9. She is considered the founder of modern nursing. During the Crimean War, Florence was concerned that some of the soldiers in the field hospitals near the battlefields seemed more likely to succumb to infectious disease than their war wounds. She proposed solutions such as improving sanitation, which are considered effectively the foundation of modern nursing. She also advocated for nursing education to elevate the profession’s reputation, which in turn enabled more women to enter the nursing profession.

10. She was committed to the principle that every patient deserves a great nurse. In “The Voice of Florence Nightingale on Advocacy” in the Online Journal of Issues in Nursing, Selanders and Crane wrote, “Nightingale never wavered from the idea that a basic human right was high-quality patient care provided by a dedicated nursing staff.”

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