Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820 in Florence, Italy. She came from a wealthy family. As a child she had a vivid imagination, was considered a dreamer and often dreamed of helping others. Nightingale was well educated, a benefit of her family’s wealth and her fathers belief in education, even for women. She studied all of the basic subjects, such as history, math, philosophy, science, music and art. She also learned five different languages. At a very young age she discovered her passion for mathematics. This was not considered an important subject for women so Nightingale had to beg her parents to let her study mathematics. Her desire to help others was put into practice at a young age. She started out by caring for sick animals and was soon caring for the servants in the household. Her family traveled all over the world and Nightingale took this opportunity to further educate herself. When she traveled she would secretly go out and visit hospitals. She kept extensive notes on all the hospitals. She took notes on management, hygiene, wards and doctors. She kept pursuing her desire to become a nurse even though her parents opposed the idea. Nursing in the nineteenth century was not considered a reputable career. Nurses did not have any training and hospitals were unsanitary places where the poor went to die. Her parents finally gave in and Nightingale was allowed to go to Kaiserswerth, a nursing school in Germany.
During the Victorian era (1837-1901) true womanhood was greatly valued by society. “True womanhood was defined as being virtuous, pious, tender, dependent and understanding to the male authority” (Aguirre, 1). Motherhood was the ultimate goal for every woman. Women were supposed to be concerned with feminine characteristics, roles and functions of family life. The ideal women in Victorian society were obedient, submissive and dependent on their husbands. Women who were not married were viewed as societal outcasts and not feminine.
Nightingale did not fit society’s image of womanhood. She was ambitious and sought a career rather than marriage in an era where it was desirable for women to be subservient to her “husband and avoid occupational ambitions” (Olson, 1). Nightingale had many marriage opportunities. She was wealthy and beautiful but her beliefs prevented any form of long term marriage relationship. She stated, “I could not satisfy my nature by spending a life with him in making society and arranging domestic things….not being able to seize the chance of forming for myself a true and rich life would seem to me like suicide” ( Huxley, 41). Her studies in philosophy included Plato, Rousseau, D. Stewart, and Descartes. These philosophers helped to form her beliefs of society and her duty to the truth. These beliefs are reflected in her hospital reforms and nursing notes. Her love of math was well applied and would serve her well when lobbying for reforms in health care.
Nightingale was an innovative and persuasive leader who single-handedly invented modern nursing, which broadened women’s roles in society. She is most remembered for her work during the Crimean War. Sir Sidney Herbert, one of her friends from the War Office, asked her to assist in a hospital in the Crimean. The Crimean War occurred during 1853-1856. When Nightingale arrived at the Barrack hospital in Scutari she found the most disgusting sight that she had ever seen. The hospital walls and floors looked like they had never been cleaned. There was no supplies, running water, latrines, basins, soap and they lacked most ordinary drugs. There were no utensils and the men ate one meal a day, if food was available, with their hands. Wounded men were placed on the dirty floor, resulting in even higher deaths. Nightingale and her thirty-eight hand picked nurses spent twenty-one months establishing hygienic standards for the care...
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Huxley, Elspeth. Florence Nightingale. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,
Florence Nightingale. (Online) Available http://www.agnesscott.edu/riddle/women/nitegale Feb., 1998.
Strachey, Lytton. Eminent Victorians. New York: Capricorn Books,
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