She was born into a wealthy English family, on May 12, 1820, and given the name of the city in which she was born: Florence, Italy….
In Victorian England, women who were “high born” were not educated, nor did they pursue a career. Their “career” was to marry well and birth and raise children. Imagine her mother’s horror when Florence told her that she had been called, by God, to undertake a nursing career.
Not that there really was a profession of nursing at that time. Or schools of nursing. Or registered nurses. But there certainly was a need for nurses. With support and encouragement from the British Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert, Florence and 38 nurses she had trained went to Crimea to provide care for the sick and wounded soldiers.
Most of those soldiers didn’t have a chance to die from their war wounds. They died of typhoid, typhus, cholera or dysentery. Massive infections were rampant. Conditions were primitive and unclean. And every night, after lights out, a lone female figure walked through the hospital corridors, checking on patients and ministering to their needs. The Lady with the Lamp….
The London Times: “She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds,”
Almost two hundred years later, the nursing profession is thriving. Schools of nursing produce new graduate nurses every year. State Boards of Registered Nursing administer testing, and license those who pass the test and the background check. State Nurse Practice Acts govern the body of work that we perform, deciding what we can do and what we cannot do.
And we can do so much more, two hundred years after Florence Nightingale. Nurses become Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurse First Assistants (in the operating room), Certified Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and more…
Yet, we owe what we are and what we do to the vision of that young Victorian English woman, a woman with a calling, and the gumption to make it work. The Lady with the Lamp. As I sit here, looking at the nursing pin I received so many years ago, I am reminded of both the dignity and the humility of nursing.
And I am reminded of Florence Nightingale. On her birthday, May 12, we will once again celebrate the proud heritage of our profession, International Nurses’ Day.
A few old photos for you to enjoy:
And a few more current ones: