• Militia Christi
  • Militia Christi
  • Militia Christi
Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale, born in 1820 (- 1910) in Florence, Italy. She was the second daughter of a well-off English family who went to Florence for her birth and subsequently named her after the city. Unlike other girls in similar families Florence was educated in various subjects including languages. Florence did not like the social scene that she and her family were involved in. It did not have the importance to her as it did to her sister and mother. Florence wanted to do something positive with her life.

When Florence was sixteen years old her life was changed. God spoke to her and told her that she had a task that He wanted her to do. Whatever anyone would think of such an event, it was real to Florence. She now knew that her life had a purpose, and that whatever would happen would be in God's will and timing.

In 1840 Florence met Lord Ashly, who would later become the seventh Earl of Shaftsbury. He was unusual, a man who used his privileged position to help the poor and needy in society. Florence went through a period of five years with her family pressuring her to do 'the right thing' and get married to someone rich. But she resisted this, pressure although her attempts to care for needy people were heavily restricted. Then her grandmother became ill and Florence cared for her until her death. This opened her families' eyes to her caring and compassionate nature and she had more freedom to help others.

Florence then wanted to serve as a nurse in a local hospital. Nurses had a very different role at that time and were no more than cleaners. Even maids and servants looked down on them. Her father refused to allow Florence to go to the hospital.

This ban caused Florence to study the whole issue of public health, and she continued to reject attempts to get her more involved in the society that her family moved in.

On a trip to Germany she came across a hospital that trained it's nurses to care for the patients. She wanted to work there and her family refused to allow her, stretching relations within the family to breaking point. In 1853 Florence was allowed to accept a public service role as superintendent of an institution which cared for sick gentlewomen. When her family saw the dedication and determination of Florence in carrying out the job they relented and gave her an income to live her own life.

Due to her family position, Florence had friends who were ideally suited to help her. Britain's Secretary of War was Sidney Herbert and he was in charge of the army hospitals. So when, in 1854 war was declared by Great Britain and other countries on Russia, Florence was in exactly the position that God had planned. The reports from the Crimea about inhumane conditions and the lack of care for the sick and injured ally troops greatly upset the country. Money for medical supplies was raised by the public to be sent to the Crimea. Sidney Herbert wanted Florence to take responsibility to change the conditions in the army hospitals by taking trained female nurses. But the army did not allow women in their hospitals!

By the end of 1854 Florence and thirty eight female nurses travelled to the army hospital at Scutari in Turkey. It was a disgusting place. There were a huge number of injured soldiers, hardly any were receiving even basic care and treatment for their injuries. A sewer went under the building causing the whole place to smell. There was very little food and hygiene was non-existent.

For a while, despite the great need all around, the male army doctors refused to allow Florence and her nurses to help at all. Then, at the battle of Balaclava, many men were killed and injured. The hospital was overrun with seriously injured soldiers and Florence and her nurses were allowed to help them. Nobody could now claim that the nurses did not have a significant role in an army hospital. They cleaned up the hospital making it as hygienic as possible. They provided clean bedding and bandages for the soldiers. And they cared for these injured and dying people showing them compassion at a traumatic and desperate stage in their lives. But the doctors still restricted what Florence was allowed to do.

In a letter Florence wrote 'We have four miles of beds eighteen inches apart'. The situation was desperate and eventually the male army doctors gave a free hand to organize the hospital and she did. She changed the wards, the kitchens and the bedding. She provided clean clothes for the soldiers, and even arranged for one derelict wing of the hospital to be rebuilt. It was during this time that Florence gained the nickname 'The Lady of the Lamp' because she was continually checking all parts of the hospital day and night and at night she needed the lamp. In 1855 Queen Victoria wrote to Florence to thank her for all that she had done.

Also in 1855 Florence travelled to other army hospitals. The doctors reacted in the same way as at Scutari but she did start the process of change in these hospitals. Eventually she collapsed with a fever and was not expected to survive. The news shocked the people back in England who avidly followed the reports on her health. When Florence eventually recovered there was a national celebration. The war was practically over and it was not long before the hospital was empty and Florence returned home.

Florence met Queen Victoria and this resulted in a Royal Commission being set up under Sidney Herbert to make recommendations on hospital procedures and Florence did most of the work! Much of the report was implemented. Florence then set up the Nightingale school of Nursing in 1860. She produced a number of books on nursing and spent some years with her family and by 1890 her parents and her sister had died.

Florence was still to make a major contribution to the peoples of the world. She advised on the treatment of injured soldiers in Egypt. She advised the Americans during the duration of the Civil War. She was involved in a Royal Commission into the health problems in India which resulted, by 1888, in a sanitary board being set up in every province of India.

In 1907 Florence Nightingale, now blind, received the Order of Merit award. In 1910 at the age of ninety she died, having completed all that God had requested from her in this world and was present with Him in the next.

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