The Lamp Lady

A report in The Times during the Crimean War gave Florence Nightingale the title, “The Lady with the Lamp”. Recognised as the “founder of modern nursing”, she has left a lasting mark on sanitation and healthcare.

Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale –Henry Hering (National Portrait Gallery, London)

She was born in Florence, Italy, on 12 May 1820 to English parents. This date is now universally recognised as International Nurses Day. When she was 16, Florence announced that she felt ‘called’ to become a nurse. Her parents weren’t impressed, as nursing at the time was associated with low social status, alcoholism, and even prostitution. She began training in 1850, and three years later, became the superintendent of a London-based women’s hospital.

In 1846, Florence visited Kaiserwerth in Germany, where Lutheran Pastor Theodor Fliedner had established a training course for deaconess-nurses – the forerunners of today’s Pastoral Care Nurses. She regarded the experience as a turning point in her life. She later returned for nursing studies and graduated in 1851. The mother house there became her spiritual home, and today one of Düsseldorf’s hospitals is named after her.

Florence’s role during the Crimean War turned her into a celebrity. In 1854 she gained permission to take 38 volunteers to treat wounded soldiers at a field hospital in Scutari, near Istanbul. She found that these soldiers were being given poor care by overworked medical staff. Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was neglected, and mass infections were common, many of them fatal. Faeces littered the floors, rats were everywhere, and clean linen was scarce. In February 1855, 42.7 percent of admitted patients died. She soon realised the link between poor sanitation and the high mortality rate, and implemented strict hygiene rules that reduced the mortality rate to two percent by June.

Queen Victoria rewarded Florence’s service by giving her a special brooch. The two met in 1856, and remained in contact for decades.

Between 1871 and 1875 Florence successfully pushed for legislation to force existing buildings in Britain to connect with mains drainage. As a result, by 1935, life expectancy had increased by 20 years. Her other achievements include the establishment of the Nightingale training school for nurses at St Thomas’ hospital in London, and the publication of her Notes on Nursing.

In 1907, Florence was inducted into Britain’s prestigious Order of Merit. No other woman received that honour again until 1965. Florence never married and died on 13 August 1910.

This year is being marked as the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. The Lutheran Nurses Association of Australia has established a ‘Lutheran Nurse of the Year’ award. The first recipient will be announced on 12 May – the 200th anniversary of Florence’s birth.

About the Author

Pastor Bob Wiebusch

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