Florence Nightingale, born in the Italian city of her name in 1820, is renowned for her work as a Nurse during the Crimean War-- known additionally for her influential work as a Statistician. Today, Nightingale is known as a pioneer in her fields, leaving us to ponder the intersection between her identities and her professional influence.
She began her career in the early 1850s, when she was recruited at a hospital in Middlesex. The unsanitary conditions there challenged her work, as a Cholera outbreak spread through beds where sanitary practices were not a priority. She felt moved to reform the hospital system in Middlesex, and began by ensuring these practices were in order. After she enforced this initiative, the death toll was significantly lowered, and the risk of a new outbreak was lessened.
When a need for nurses grew in Crimea in the early 1850s, Secretary of War Sidney Herbert reached out to Nightingale, given she was aware of her unique ability and drive. Though female nurses had a bad reputation in Crimea, and the war office had stopped hiring them, the demand between gruesome battles grew sharply. Soldiers began to wallow in hospitals where a lack of sanitation took their lives as easily as illnesses. The sexist sanction on hiring female nurses ended when Nightingale assembled, per Herbert’s order, a team of 34 female nurses. They headed to the anguished soldiers immediately.
The conditions at the Scutari base in Constantinople were worse than she could’ve imagined. Water and sanitary contamination killed more than battle injuries, and supplies were almost entirely unavailable. She wasted no time gathering those who could help clean to improve the general sanitary conditions, asking the least ill patients to scrub the facilities. In the meantime, she’d travel from bed to bed, every waking minute, to check on the patients’ health. She’d walk carefully through the injured men carrying a light to see each patient, who, in turn, called her “The Lady with the Lamp." Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds (History, 2020).
Her work in Crimea would have a lasting influence on the medical system, and restructure the way countries respond to war-time emergencies. Her system of diet-specific nourishment would prevent malnourishment in fighting soldiers, and her prioritization of clean laundry would continue to inspire an upkeep of sanitation procedures. She wrote of her experience in Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army, and her report was well received by the British Administration. They created a department special for Army Health Affairs in 1857.
Statisticians played a key role in the new Army Health department, and as the fatalities of the Crimean war were analyzed, what the professionals saw shocked them. 16,000 of the 18,000 army deaths had been from preventable diseases-- a figure collected from complex data and hard to communicate to the public. Nightingale created a visual model, called the “Nightingale Rose Diagram” to demonstrate how the Sanitary work of her organization improved the livelihoods of soldiers subject to the poor conditions. Her model transformed data that was inaccessible and complex into a visual representation that allowed the general public to understand. For her efforts, she was initiated into the Royal Statistical Society.
Growing up in a family characterized by a devotion to God, Nightingale was expected to settle down into a conventional British marriage: man and wife. Florence herself followed God as what she called her “call to service” as a nurse-- one that she claims was holy and divine. Though she was proposed to four times by different men, she rejected each, and professed her love for the women throughout her life. In a late memoir, she states, "I have lived and slept in the same beds with English Countesses and Prussian farm women. No woman has excited passions among women more than I have" (Sparrow, 2011). Though the era of her life is a time of expressive, excited diction and admiral declarations, many believe that Nightingale was, in fact, a member of the LGBT+ community, an identity she would have had to hide in the 1800s. Nightingale surely led a notable career as a woman, and remains a remarkable role model for other professions and identities.
History.com Editors. (2009, November 9). Florence Nightingale. HISTORY.