Women’s History Month Spotlight: Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale grew up with a life of luxury, yet she knew that her true passion was nursing. During her teenage years, Florence believed that she had received a “calling” from God to help those people who were poor and sick. In 1844, she went against her parents’ wishes of getting married and pursued a career in nursing.

During the Crimean War in 1854, British forces could not handle the amount of sick and injured soldiers whose conditions weren’t improving due to the unsanitary conditions, and ineffective treatment they were receiving. Sidney Hebert, the Secretary of War, reached out to Florence and requested she oversee a corps of nurses that would travel to the British camp in Constantinople to assist with care. The nurses were initially unwelcomed by doctors; as previous female nurses did a poor job and were still an unpopular profession. Nonetheless, Florence and her nurses contributed food, supplies, cleanliness, and sanitation to the military hospital and individualized care to the soldiers. During the War, Florence received the nickname “Lady with the Lamp” as she was spotted carrying her signature lamp while checking on the health of the soldiers.

After the war, Florence continued her work improving the conditions of hospitals to ensure patients would receive the best possible care. In 1856, with the support of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Florence formed a Royal Commission to improve the health of the British Army.

Florence left her mark as an advocate for hospitals to be a cleaner and safer location. She is credited with writing over 150 books, pamphlets, and reports that focused on translating data on health-related issues. After her passing in 1910, the International Committee of the Red Cross created a medal on her behalf that would be given to excellent nurses every two years. International Nurses Day has been celebrated on her birthday, May 12, every year since 1965. In honor of the hundredth anniversary of her death, in May 2010, the St. Thomas Hospital in London reopened the Florence Nightingale Museum, and she is widely considered the pioneer of modern nursing.