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The life of Florence Nightingale

The founder of modern nursing, and the lady with the lamp….

Discover how one remarkable woman changed the face of nursing forever in our Florence Nightingale facts…

Have you or your family ever been poorly and had to go to hospital? Did you notice all the hard work the nurses were doing to care for the patients and help them get better? 

Today, nurses are recognised as important , super-skilled professionals . But that hasn’t always been the case. Believe it or not, at the start of the 19th century, nurses usually had no training at all, and they weren’t even paid for the ‘menial’ work they did! But one woman changed all that… meet the amazing Florence Nightingale .

Florence Nightingale facts

Who was florence nightingale.

Born : 12 May 1820 in Florence, Italy Lived in : England, UK Occupation : Nurse Died : 13 August 1910 Best known for : Founding modern nursing Also known as : Lady with the Lamp

Florence Nightingale was born in the city of Florence, Italy , on 12 May 1820 whilst her parents were enjoying a long honeymoon. And yup, you guessed it – that’s how she got her name! Her parents were called William and Fanny Nightingale , and she had one older sister, too – Frances Parthenope , AKA ‘Pop’.

William Nightingale was a wealthy banker and was able to provide his family with a very privileged life. They had servants and two lovely houses – a winter home in Hampshire and a summer home in Derbyshire.

At the time that Florence was a youngster, most girls didn’t go to school – in fact, many didn’t receive any education at all! But William was keen for his daughters to learn, and gave them lessons in lots of different subjects, including science, history and maths.

What did Florence Nightingale do?

In Victorian Britain , wealthy women like Florence weren’t expected to work – their job was to marry and look after the home. Daily life was spent seeing to servants, entertaining guests, reading, sewing and attending social events. But Florence saw something very different for her future. When she was 16 years old, she believed she heard a voice from God calling for her to  carry out important work to help those suffering . She wanted to be a nurse.

When Florence broke the news to her parents, they weren’t too happy! Nursing was not a respectful profession and, what’s more, hospitals were filthy, horrible places where sick people died – certainly no place for wealthy girl like Florence! William tried hard to change his daughter’s mind, but Florence was determined. In 1851, he gave in, and allowed Florence to study nursing at a Christian school for women in Germany . There, she learned important skills in caring for patients and the importance of hospital cleanliness .

It wasn’t long before Florence put her new skills to the test. By 1853 she was running a women’s hospital in London, where she did a fantastic job improving the working conditions as well as patient care.

Did you know that we have a FREE downloadable Florence Nightingale primary resource? Great for teachers, homeschoolers and parents alike!

The Crimean War

In 1854, the Crimean War broke out – a war with Britain, France and Turkey on one side, and Russia on the the other. British troops went off to fight in the Crimea – an area in the south of Russia, now part of Ukraine. News soon reached home of soldiers dying from battle wounds, cold, hunger and sickness, with no real medical care or nurses to treat them. Help was needed fast, and the Minister for War – called Sidney Herbert – knew just the person… He asked Florence to lead a team of nurses to the Crimea!

When they arrived, the nurses found the Army hospital in Scutari (the area where wounded soldiers were sent) in a terrible state. It was overcrowded and filthy, with blocked drains, broken toilets and rats running everywhere. Imagine the smell! There weren’t enough medical supplies or equipment, and wounded soldiers had to sleep on the dirty floor, without blankets to keep warm, clean water to drink or fresh food to eat. Not surprisingly, disease spread quickly and most of the soldiers died from infection.

Florence Nightingale to the rescue!

Florence knew that the soldiers could only get well again if the hospital conditions improved. With funds from back home, she bought better medical equipment and decent food, and paid for workmen to clear the drains. And together with her team, she cleaned the wards , set up a hospital kitchen and provided the wounded soldiers with quality care – bathing them, dressing their wounds and feeding them. As a result of all the improvements, far fewer soldiers were dying from disease.

Why was Florence Nightingale the Lady with the Lamp?

Florence Nightingale truly cared for her suffering patients . At night, when everyone was sleeping, she’d   visit the soldiers to make sure they were comfortable. She’d also write letters home for those who could not write themselves. Since Florence carried a lantern with her on her night visits, the soldiers would call her ‘ The Lady with the Lamp’ .

Florence after the Crimean War

By the time Florence returned to England in 1856, she’d made quite a name for herself. After newspapers wrote about her work in the Crimea, people thought of her as a heroine. Queen Victoria wrote her a letter to say thank you for everything she had done. Cool, eh?

But Florence had no care for fame, and even though the war was over, there was still work to be done. She set about writing letters to important people telling them what was wrong with Army hospitals, and in September 1856 she met with Queen Victoria to discuss ways to improve military medical systems. Huge reform took place – the Army started to train doctors, hospitals became cleaner and soldiers were provided with better clothing, food and care. Go, Flo!

In 1860, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses opened at St Thomas’s Hospital in London. Not only did the school provide excellent nurse training, it made nursing a respectable career for women who wanted to work outside the home. 

How is Florence Nightingale remembered?

Florence suffered from illness for much of her later life, largely because of all her hard work helping sick people. In fact, during her final 40 years she spent many days confined to her bed. But she was greatly appreciated for everything she did for nursing, and for saving the lives of thousands of people . In 1907, Florence became the first woman to receive the Order of Merit , an award given by the queen for super-special work.

Sadly, Florence Nightingale died on 13 of August 1910, but she will forever be recognised as the founder of modern nursing.

What do you think of our Florence Nightingale facts? Leave a comment below and let us know!

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She is so kind and she helped all the soldiers by writing letters to their family

Florence nightingale was AWESOME!

Thanks for it I respect Florence Nightingale and for her work

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Thank you for all the facts. it was very amazing to find this facts.

Great information!!

She was a powerful, kind spirited individual. Amazing!

She was great

sooo cool I'm so inspired!

she was an amazing lady

I think that the information is really helpful and it helped me with my speech. Thank you

My mother was a nurse and simply adored this remarkable lady and also mother Theresa. And it is so important that we look back with pride of their extrodinary sacrifice over many years. Where are they today. God bless them both,

wow she is awsome

Florence Nightingale is wonderful indeed. She's amazing. I wish I can be good like her.

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Women Heroes

Florence nightingale.

The nurse who changed hospitals for the better

Florence Nightingale just wanted to help. As a young woman in England in the 1840s, she saw how hard it was for poor people to get help when they were sick. She wanted to be a nurse, but her rich parents thought that the job was beneath her, that she should instead marry a wealthy man. Defying what most women of her time would do, she went to Germany to study nursing.

Born on May 12, 1820, Nightingale was smart and observant. At her first job in the early 1850s, caring for sick teachers in London, England, she became superintendent after quickly showing her talent for helping the sick get better. It was also when she developed ideas that would change healthcare forever.

The mostly male doctors of the day focused on treating the diseases patients came into the hospital with, and not necessarily on how the diseases spread. (The idea of germs spreading diseases hadn’t quite caught on yet.) But while volunteering at a hospital during a cholera outbreak, Nightingale noticed that people were catching and spreading diseases inside the hospital itself. It was then she realized that dirty conditions inside hospitals might be spreading diseases, and that if hospitals were cleaner, patients might be safer.

In 1853, England and France went to war with Russia in what is now Turkey , an event called the Crimean War. Nightingale was asked to lead a team of 38 nurses at the British military hospital in Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). When she arrived, she was shocked to discover that more soldiers were dying from infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera than from battle wounds. Taking charge, she had the hospital scrubbed, then created diagrams and graphs to show that if hospitals were cleaner, fewer people would die. According to some sources, because of her efforts the hospital’s death rate dropped from about 40 percent to around 2 percent.

The “Lady With the Lamp”—soldiers’ nickname for her because of her habit of walking dark hallways to care for them—returned to England after the war ended in 1856. Two years later she became the first woman member of the Royal Statistical Society for her use of graphs in healthcare, and in 1860 she founded the Nightingale Home and Training School for Nurses to properly train healthcare workers.

King George V sent Nightingale a personal birthday message on her 90 th birthday; she died a few months later on August 13, 1910 . But even today, doctors and nurses care for patients using the safe methods that she developed, making sure that those patients’ health only improves when they enter a hospital.

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  • World Biography

Florence Nightingale Biography

Born: May 12, 1820 Florence, Italy Died: August 13, 1910 London, England English nurse

The English nurse Florence Nightingale was the founder of modern nursing and made outstanding contributions to the knowledge and improvement of public health.

Early years and study

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820; she was named after the city of her birth. Her father, William E. Nightingale, was a wealthy landowner who had inherited an estate in Derbyshire, England. Like many members of the wealthy class, he and Florence's mother, Fanny, dedicated themselves to the pursuit of active social lives. Florence and her sister, Parthenope, were tutored by their father in languages, mathematics, and history. Though Florence was tempted by the idea of a brilliant social life and marriage, she also wanted to achieve independence, importance in some field of activity, and obedience to God through service to society.

In 1844 Nightingale decided that she wanted to work in hospitals. Her family objected strongly to her plan; hospital conditions at that time were known to be terrible, and nurses were untrained and thought to be of questionable morals. Ignoring all resistance, Nightingale managed to visit some hospitals and health facilities. She then received permission from her parents to spend a few months at Kaiserworth, a German training school for nurses and female teachers. In 1853 she became superintendent of the London charity-supported Institution for Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances. This opportunity allowed her to become independent from her family and also to try out new ideas in organizing and managing an institution, conducted in a scientific, nonreligious setting.

War efforts

In October of 1854 Nightingale organized a party of thirty-eight nurses, mostly from different religious orders, for service in the Crimean War (1853–56), in which Great Britain, France, and Sardinia fought against Russian expansion in Europe. The nurses arrived at Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey) in November. Conditions at the British base hospital at Scutari (now Uskudar, Turkey) were awful and grew steadily worse as the number of sick and wounded soldiers rapidly increased. The British army did not have enough medical services and used what it did have poorly—a confusing and complicated supply system actually cut off deliveries to the patients. The Barrack Hospital, where Nightingale and her nurses worked and lived, was built on a massive cesspool (an underground area into which liquid waste flows), which poisoned the water and even the building itself. The general attitude was that the common soldier was a drunken brute on whom all comforts would be wasted.

Florence Nightingale.

Hospital reform efforts back home

Florence Nightingale left Scutari in the summer of 1856, soon after the war ended. By then she was famous among the troops and the public as the "Lady with the Lamp" and the "Nightingale in the East." This popular image is not quite accurate. Although she did some active nursing in the wards, Nightingale's real work lay outside the expression of tenderness and concern. It began with her refusal to respond to public praise and with her use of her influence in high places, including with the queen, to fight for effective reform of the entire system of military hospitals and medical care.

In Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army (1857) Nightingale used the experiences of the war to prove that a new system was necessary. Within five years this effort led to the reconstruction of the administrative structure of the War Office. Nightingale's Notes on Hospitals (1859) detailed the proper arrangements for civilian institutions (places that were not a part of the military). In the next year she presided over the founding of the Nightingale School for the training of nurses at St. Thomas's Hospital in London, England. After 1858 she was recognized as the leading expert on military and civilian sanitation (the removal of water-transported waste) in India. She also believed that irrigation (the supplying of water to an area using artificial methods) was the solution to the problem of famine. In 1907 Nightingale was the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit.

Later years

Nightingale's personality is well documented. She rebelled against the idle, sheltered existence of her family her entire life. She achieved a leading position in a world dominated by men, driving and directing her male coworkers as hard as she did herself. She often complained that women were selfish, and she had no time for the growing women's rights movement. But she also developed an idea of spiritual (relating to or affecting the spirit) motherhood and saw herself as the mother of the men of the British army—"my children"—whom she had saved. Florence Nightingale never really recovered from the physical strain of the Crimean War. After 1861 she rarely left her home and was confined to her bed much of the time. She died on August 13, 1910, in London, England.

For More Information

Dossey, Barbara Montgomery. Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer. Springhouse, PA: Springhouse Corp., 2000.

Small, Hugh. Florence Nightingale: Avenging Angel. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1999.

Vickers, Rebecca. Florence Nightingale. Chicago: Heinemann Library, 2000.

Wellman, Sam. Florence Nightingale: Lady with the Lamp. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour, 1999.

Woodham-Smith, Cecil. Florence Nightingale. New ed. London: Constable, 1996.

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  1. Florence Nightingale facts for kids

    Occupation: Nurse Died: 13 August 1910 Best known for: Founding modern nursing Also known as: Lady with the Lamp Florence Nightingale was born in the city of Florence, Italy, on 12 May 1820 whilst her parents were enjoying a long honeymoon. And yup, you guessed it – that’s how she got her name!

  2. Florence Nightingale

    Image by Hulton Archive / Getty Images Born on May 12, 1820, Nightingale was smart and observant. At her first job in the early 1850s, caring for sick teachers in London, England, she became...

  3. Florence Nightingale

    Early Life Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820. She grew up in England, where she had a comfortable life with her wealthy parents. She studied several languages, history, and mathematics with her father at home. As a young adult, Nightingale felt called to be a nurse. Her family did not approve.

  4. Florence Nightingale Biography

    Born: May 12, 1820 Florence, Italy Died: August 13, 1910 London, England English nurse The English nurse Florence Nightingale was the founder of modern nursing and made outstanding contributions to the knowledge and improvement of public health. Early years and study