Florence Nightingale has been known for over a century as the ‘angel’ of the Crimea, a courageous pioneer, a humanitarian and generous Lady With the Lamp, who fought to improve the conditions of wounded soldiers and helped to found modern nursing.
Recently, new research has questioned this angelic picture with a less popular, but possibly also realistic image of a ruthless, arrogant woman who was determined to impose on others to do her will, without any consideration.
Both visions have probably some truth to them, which makes Florence Nightingale a fascinating and complex character to understand.
Here are some interesting fact about her life and her work.
Florence Nightingale got her first name from the city she was born in Italy, on May 12, 1820.
Although Italian born, she belonged to a wealthy English family and grew up in London.
As part of an upper class family, Florence and her sister were expected to grow up as proper ladies who would devote themselves to their family, husband and society, but unlike her sister, who was happy to do so, she questioned the 'lethargic lifestyle' and instead reflected on the need for charity and the causes of poverty and unemployment.
Nightingale was educated mainly by her father on Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, history, philosophy and mathematics.
The dedication she had, for helping others and becoming a nurse, appeared from what she believed was "a calling" coming directly from God 'talking' to her. This happened for the first time, when she was 17 years old.
Instead of getting married, at the age of twenty-five, Florence told her parents she wanted to become a nurse, as she believed this profession was her diving purpose. Her parents were totally opposed to the idea, as nursing was associated with working class women.
One of her main achievements, was the introduction of trained nurses, into the working system in England and Ireland from the 1860s onwards.
She was known as "The Lady with the Lamp" as she used to do the rounds at night to check on the patients, while the rest of the staff had already gone to sleep.
Despite the fact that she was a very educated and talented writer, she chose to write some of her leaflets in simple English so they could be understood by those with poor literary skills.
Nightingale also helped to make more popular the graphical presentation of statistical data, in fact she became a pioneer in the visual presentation of information and statistical graphics, using methods such as the pie chart, which at the time was a relatively new way of presenting data.
Nightingale held strong opinions on women's rights. In her book Suggestions for Thought to Searchers after Religious Truths (1859) she argued strongly for the removal of restrictions that prevented women having careers.
In 1859 she was elected the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society and later became an honorary member of the American Statistical Association.
In the 1870s, she mentored an American nurse, Linda Richards and enabled her to return to the USA with adequate training and knowledge to create nursing training programs in the United States and Japan.
She died in London on the 13 August 1910.
Each year a service is held in Westminster Abbey in London where a symbolic lamp is taken from the Nurses' Chapel in the Abbey and handed from one nurse to another meaning the passing of knowledge from one nurse to another.
Florence Nightingale recorded her voice for posterity in a phonograph recording from 1890 preserved in the British Library Sound Archive. The recording is available online.
Florence Nightingale Voice Recording
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