Florence Nightingale – the lady with the lamp

Florence Nightingale cared for wounded soldiers and in so doing created the nursing profession. Listen again to her story on Songs of Hope podcast.

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Florence Nightingale
Our Christian who made a difference is a lady who broke with English conventions on how an upper class woman should live. She dedicated her life to making a difference for people in hospital and wounded soldiers. She is known now as the “lady of the lamp”. She is the founder of the nursing profession. She was a practising Christian living by Christian values. She is Florence Nightingale.

Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 in Florence, Italy. She was the second daughter of a well-off English family temporarily living in Florence. When she was young, she went through a period of time of her family pressuring her to do ‘the right thing’ and get married to someone rich. But she resisted this. She wanted to make a difference, and she started nursing her ill grandmother.

Although she wanted to nurse in a local hospital, her father refused to let her. Nurses in public hospitals had a very limited role as no more than cleaners, and in status were below maids and servants. Despite family opposition, 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.

In 1854, when Florence was 34 years old, Britain was at war with Russia in the Crimea. The reports about inhumane conditions and the lack of care for the the sick and injured troops greatly upset the people in Great Britain. In those days a war wound was usually a death sentence. Money for medical supplies was raised by the public to be sent to the Crimea. Even though the army did not at the time allow female nurses in their hospitals, the secretary of war, a friend of the Nightingale family, arranged for Florence to take 38 female nurses to the war hospital at Scutari in Turkey.

There were a huge number of injured soldiers, hardly any were receiving even basic care and treatment for their injuries. A sewer ran under the building causing the whole place to smell. There was very little food and hygiene was non-existent. It was a disgusting place.

Florence and her nurses cleaned up the hospital making it as hygienic as possible. They provided clean bedding and bandages for the soldiers. They provided clean clothes for the soldiers. The nurses cared for the injured and dying, showing them compassion at a traumatic and desperate stage in their lives. In a letter to home, Florence wrote ‘We have four miles of beds eighteen inches apart’.

Florence was continually checking all parts of the hospital day and night, and at night she needed a lamp. She became known as “the lady of the lamp”. She went to other army hospitals and started the process of change there. But she collapsed with a fever and was not expected to survive. The news shocked the people back in England.

When Florence eventually recovered there was a national celebration. The war finally ended and Queen Victoria thanked Florence for what she had done. A royal commission was set up to make recommendations on hospital procedures. Florence wrote most of the report and most of the report was implemented, changing hospital practices forever in the west. Florence then set up the “Nightingale school of Nursing” in 1860 and produced a number of books on nursing practices. Florence made other major contributions. She advised on the treatment of injured soldiers in Egypt. She advised the Americans on war wounded treatment during their 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 at age 87, Florence Nightingale, now blind, received the “Order of Merit” award. In 1910 at the age of ninety, she died. We salute Florence Nightingale, a Christian who has made a difference because of her Christian beliefs and values.