Florence Nightingale: The Mother of Modern Nursing

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In the realm of nursing, Florence Nightingale is the most well-known name. Her work was crucial in the development of modern nursing practice, and she worked tirelessly to ensure that the patients in her care had all they needed to get well. Her Environmental Theory revolutionized nursing by establishing sanitary working environments for both patients and nurses.

Background and Early Life

Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820, the city that inspired her name. Nightingale was the younger of two girls from a wealthy British family who belonged to upper-class social circles.

Nightingale's father, William Edward Nightingale (who had changed his surname from "Shore"), was a wealthy landowner with two estates: one in Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, and the other in Embly, Hampshire. Nightingale received a traditional education that included mathematics, as well as German, French, and Italian.

Nightingale was a philanthropist from an early age, caring for the sick and impoverished in the village adjacent to her family's land.

Nightingale eventually realized that nursing was her calling, and she considered it to be her divine destiny.

Nightingale's parents were unhappy when she told them about her plans to become a nurse and banned her from pursuing the necessary training. A young lady of Nightingale's social position was expected to marry a man of riches. This was to ensure her social standing. 

During the Victorian Era, English women had essentially no property rights, rather than taking up jobs that the higher social classes regarded as lowly menial labor.

In 1849, Nightingale turned down a marriage proposal from Richard Monckton Milnes, a "decent" guy who had followed her for years.

She explained why she turned him down, adding that while he intellectually and romantically aroused her, her "moral...active character" demanded something more than a household life. Despite her parents' concerns, Nightingale enrolled as a nursing student at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserswerth, Germany, in 1850.

Background in Nursing

Nightingale returned to London in the early 1850s, becoming a nurse in a Middlesex hospital for unwell governesses.

 Nightingale's work impressed her boss so much that she was elevated to superintendent after only a year on the job. Nightingale's position was difficult since she dealt with a cholera outbreak and unclean surroundings that aided the disease's rapid spread. 

Nightingale made it her mission to enhance sanitary methods, resulting in a dramatic reduction in the hospital's death rate. Her health suffered because of her hard work. She'd only just gotten back on her feet when the most complex challenge of her nursing career awaited her.

Nursing in war

The Crimean War broke out in October of 1853. For control of the Ottoman Empire, the British Empire was at war with the Russian Empire. Thousands of British troops were dispatched to the Black Sea, where supplies ran out quickly. By 1854, there had been almost 18,000 troops admitted to military hospitals.

In Crimea at the time, no female nurses were working in hospitals. The war office had avoided hiring more female nurses in the past due to their bad image. However, during the Battle of Alma, England was outraged at the treatment of their sick and injured soldiers. The latter lacked adequate medical care due to hospitals' severe understaffing and suffered cloudy and cruel conditions.

In late 1854, Secretary of War Sidney Herbert wrote to Nightingale, requesting that she form a corps of nurses to care for the injured and fallen soldiers in the Crimea. Nightingale responded to her summons. She swiftly gathered a team of 34 nurses from several religious organizations and sailed to Crimea with them only a few days later.

Nothing could have prepared Nightingale and her nurses for what they found when they landed at Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople, even though they had been told of the horrific conditions there. The hospital was built on top of a massive cesspool, contaminating the water and the hospital itself. On stretchers strewn across the hallways, patients lay in their feces. Rodents and bugs hurried them. 

As the sick and wounded swelled, essential commodities, such as bandages and soap became increasingly short. Water had to be rationed as well. Infectious diseases such as typhoid and cholera killed more soldiers than injuries.

Nightingale got right to work. She bought hundreds of scrub brushes and assigned the least ill patients to scrub the hospital's interior from floor to ceiling. Every waking minute of Nightingale's life was dedicated to caring for the soldiers.

In the evenings, she made her rounds through the dark corridors, holding a lantern and ministering to patient after patient. 

Soldiers began to refer to her as "the Lady with the Lamp" as she moved and comforted them with her never-ending compassion. 

Others simply referred to her as "the Crimean Angel." Her efforts cut the hospital's death rate by two-thirds.

In addition to dramatically enhancing the hospital's sanitary standards,

Nightingale established several patient services that helped improve the quality of patients' hospital stays. She established an "invalid's kitchen" where delectable food for patients with unique dietary needs was prepared. She set up laundry so that the patients may have clean sheets and towels. She also established a classroom and a library for the intellectual and recreational stimulation of the patients.

The Treaty of Paris terminated the Crimean War on March 30, 1856. Nightingale stayed at Scutari until the hospitals were ready to close, then returned to Derbyshire as a reluctant heroine on August 7, 1856.

Nursing existed before Florence Nightingale's professionalization, but it was a pretty different job. Many nurses were nuns, and they were well-respected. Nursing was often regarded as a vocation of last option, with minimal respect.

Although she is most known for her contributions during the Crimean War, Nightingale's greatest triumphs were in the areas of social transformation in health care and nursing. Nightingale was suffering from brucellosis and weariness when she returned to England.

She met with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in September 1856 to discuss military reform in the United Kingdom. 

Nightingale kept comprehensive notes on the operation of the Barrack Hospital, the causes of disease and death, the efficiency of the nursing and medical staff, and purveyance challenges.

A Royal Commission was constituted, and its findings were based on Nightingale's statistical data and analysis. As a result, the military's medical and supply systems underwent significant changes.

Florence Nightingale pioneered the use of graphs to present statistical data. She created the type shown here in 1858 and named it Coxcomb.

The Nightingale Fund was created in 1855 as a symbol of gratitude and admiration for Nightingale. By 1859, £45,000 had been raised through individual donations and given to Nightingale. She put a large portion of the money toward establishing the Nightingale School of Nursing at St. Thomas' Hospital in London, which opened in 1860. Nursing became a feasible and respectable alternative for women who wanted to work outside the house after the school institutionalized secular nursing education. Matrons all around the world adopted the model (women supervisors of public health institutions).

Through her most renowned article, Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not, Nightingale enhanced families’ health by guiding how to care for the sick. Since 1859, this volume has been continuously published all over the world. 

The Nightingale Fund was used to fund other improvements, including establishing a school for the teaching of midwives at King's College Hospital in 1862. She founded district nursing training, believing that the important location for sick care was at home to improve the health of the poor and vulnerable.

Based on Nightingale's statistical data, a second Royal Commission looked at India's health, resulting in considerable environmental reform.


Florence Nightingale was the first woman to obtain the Order of Merit and was given the title of Lady of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem during her lifetime. Nightingale's family declined the offer of a state funeral and burial in Westminster Abbey when she died in 1910, as she had requested. Instead, she was remembered at St. Paul's Cathedral in London with a memorial service. In the family plot, her ashes are interred at St. Margaret's Church in East Wellow, Hampshire.

Key takeaways

My research about Florence Nightingale got me thinking about how her environmental theory is still used to define the nursing profession today as we fight the Coronavirus. She proposed a hypothesis in which an individual's health is just as vital as the environment's. 

Florence was ahead of her time to preserve people's lives through clean air, healthy diets, and nurturing environments. I have learned so much about her, but let me share these fundamental lessons.

1. Follow your dreams.

Florence Nightingale was born into a comfortable existence in England to a wealthy, aristocratic family. She was supposed to marry young and well and have children, but she believed as a 17-year-old that she had a goal and wanted to devote her life to helping others.

2. Familiarize yourself and your work with facts and data.

Make your argument irrefutable. This is something that everyone should do, not just those who label themselves "researchers."

3. Commitment.

Florence Nightingale didn't have a job; she had a mission. Before taking her team of young nurses to Crimea, she did not inquire about pay and benefits, and she suffered working conditions that would be deemed unacceptable in today's society. Despite this, she never suffered "burnout," and her dedication to her job profoundly impacted the world of healthcare.

When it comes to chasing your aspirations, you should be fully devoted and conceive of them as a mission to complete.

If Nightingale had lived in our time, she would have urged us to remember that we can overcome any hurdle and make the world a better place if we face the problems with courage and commitment and refuse to make excuses or give up trying.