Friday, May 24, 2019

N is for Nightingale (Blogging Through the Alphabet)

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image of Clara Barton
Clara Barton
One of the most important figures in modern nursing is Florence Nightingale. She is often credited with being the founder of the nursing profession as we know it today. Of course, other women have been influential in the field of medicine as pioneers such as Clara Barton, Elizabeth Blackwell, Rebecca Lee Crumpler, and Dorothea Dix.

Nightingale demonstrated a great concern for the ordinary soldier who was often not cared about during wars. They were just one of many who could easily be replaced. Too often, the generals and other leaders did not respect the sacrifice of the common soldier.

Early Life

Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820 in Florence, Italy, where her parents were living abroad. She was named for the city in which she was born. Her early childhood and formative years were spent learning the social graces of being a lady of means as well as learning about languages, history, and philosophy. Her mother and father taught both her and her sister, Parthenope, while they were living on their family estates.

While on the family estates, Nightingale also saw the beginning of her calling developing. She enjoyed caring for the farmers on her father's estates when they fell ill and tended to the babies of families visiting the estate. During these years, she bucked tradition – turning down suitors and parties, instead studying health care reform and the treatment of the poor.

Eventually, Nightingale studied at the Institution of Deaconesses (a Protestant school for nurses) in Germany for four months. She would continue her education in Paris and eventually become superintendent of a woman's hospital in London – the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen.

The Crimean War

The Crimean War (1853-1856) was fought between Russia and the combined forces of Great Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia. The war was fought for a number of reasons including: religious, commercial (or trade), and geographic reasons. This war would be the first to be covered by newspapers and photographers on the front which is probably one of the reasons why the war was so influential in the history of nursing.

The news arriving at home regarding the troops both saddened and angered British citizens. They heard rumors that troops did not have enough supplies and were dying under terrible conditions. The Secretary of War asked Nightingale to go to the Crimean Peninsula to aid in the care of the soldiers.

Nightingale left in October 1854 and arrived in November 1854 with 38 volunteer nurses and 15 Catholic nuns to help the overworked medical staff. Men were being ill treated and overlooked for many reasons including:

  • Overworked staff
  • Lack of medical supplies 
  • Neglected hygiene 
  • Mass infections
  • Indifference to common soldier's needs 
  • Lack of equipment to process food 
  • Lack of cots and clean places to rest and sleep for the wounded 
Nightingale and her nurses had arrived after the Battle of Balaklava where about 250 of the British cavalrymen had been wounded or killed in under 20 minutes. The soldiers who arrived found themselves in an old Turkish barracks with rats and the above-mentioned problems. Nightingale planned to set things right to help the men. 

Changes Nightingale Made 

After seeing the disarray, Nightingale set out to make the dirty and poorly furnished make-shift hospital a better place for the wounded, the dying, and the men and women taking care of them. The men who were healthy enough she enlisted to help her clean up the place. She then set a nursing schedule into effect. She implemented better hygiene practices like hand washing and the sewers were also flushed which helped lower the death rate.

She would tour the wards at night with her lamp or stay up late at night writing letter after letter to request – no, demand – supplies for the hospitals and also write reports. She even set up classes for the men when they felt better and the hospital was running more smoothly so they could learn to read and write for themselves. This would provide them with the chance to write their own letters rather than relying upon the nurses.

Later Life 

Nightingale's work in the Crimean War left her ill and a semi-invalid. The world had come to her for her expertise and she delivered it. She would set up a nursing schooling in London and provided advice for the United States during the Civil War. The Lady with the Lamp, the first recipient of the Royal Red Cross, was such an important woman in the history of medicine.

If you enjoyed this post about Nightingale, perhaps you would like to read more about another famous woman – Elizabeth I

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  1. So informative! I loved studying her as a kid.

    1. Thank you...I didn't read too much about her before - I knew more about Clara Barton.

  2. What a cute idea for a blog series! And Great Information!

  3. Reading about the accomplishments of women like Florence Nightingale and others of that era make me really appreciate how far we've come. Thank you for sharing!

  4. I love how rich your homeschool seems to be! Florence Nightingale is a true hero.

    1. Thank you! I amazed how much she was able to get done in the late 1850s.

  5. WOW, so much great information. Thank you for sharing!

  6. I now have a desire to go read a bio about Florence Nightingale. Thanks for sharing some information about her.

    1. I need to see if our library has any books about her for our kids. I would love to introduce them to her life.