Overview The Nightingale Years

Overview The Nightingale Years. This week, we will explore the impact that Florence Nightingale had on the nursing profession. We will consider the well known story of Nightingale plus aspects that are less familiar to many nurses. As we read the familiar and unfamiliar aspects of Nightingale’s life and work, let’s keep an open mind about the woman known as the founder of modern nursing.

The Nightingale Story

Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy, to a wealthy British family. She spent her youth in England in the lap of luxury. Nightingale was educated by her father and several nannies, as was common for young girls at that time. She believed that God had spoken to her and called her to a life of serving the poor and ill, although her family was not pleased with her decision to refuse marriage and dedicate her life to nursing, which had a terrible image at that time (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995).

At age 31, Nightingale studied nursing for 3 months at the deaconess school in Kaiserwerth, Germany, run by the Fliedners, as described in the Week 1 Lesson (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995). This was the longest period of nursing instruction received by Nightingale. The deaconess training had a great impact on Nightingale’s future nursing and her development of nursing education.

In 1853, Nightingale worked in London as the “head of the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen on Harley Street” (Judd & Sitzman, 2014, p. 68), a position she held only briefly due to a board of directors whose ideas did not align with hers (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995). Nightingale was in the process of negotiating for another position when the Crimean war broke out. This would change her life (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995).

In October 1854, Nightingale departed for the Crimea to serve as the “Superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment of the English General Hospitals in Turkey” (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995, p. 32). Some 38 self-proclaimed nurses accompanied her on this trip, 24 of whom were nuns (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995). These women, led by Nightingale, served in the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, Turkey. The hospital was grossly overcrowded and lacked basic sanitation, supplies, or sustenance. Nightingale, in as few as 10 days after her arrival, established a kitchen, set up a laundry, and obtained much-needed supplies. After reforming the Barrack Hospital and greatly improving cleanliness and survival rates, Nightingale traveled to Balaclava to visit its hospitals and lend her assistance in improving their conditions (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995).

Kalisch and Kalisch (1995) reported that Nightingale was ever diligent in her care of the soldiers, often working up to 20 hours a day. When working at night, she walked the rows of bedridden soldiers, carrying a lamp to light her way in the darkness. This resulted in Nightingale being known as the lady with the lamp.

After visiting the hospitals in Balaclava, Nightingale became ill with Crimean fever, also known as brucellosis. This serious illness was treated in Scutari, although Nightingale experienced complications for the remainder of her life.

Nightingale’s work in the Crimean War met with much resistance from the military leadership, physicians, and the public. Her ideas were revolutionary regarding organization of military hospitals and the introduction of trusted women to nurse the wounded soldiers. By the end of the war, Nightingale decreased the mortality rate at the Barrack Hospital from 60% to 1% (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995).

Nightingale’s Impact beyond the Crimean War

After the Crimean War, Nightingale dedicated herself to the “reform of army sanitary practices and the establishment of a school for nurses” (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995, p. 36). In 1860, Nightingale began a nurse training school at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. Many physicians opposed this school and training, believing that nurses were little more than housemaids. While Nightingale was the chief advisor for this school, her “ill health prevented her from taking charge of the program” (Kalisch & Kalisch, 1995, p. 36). Nightingale’s fervent belief was that “organized nursing education would provide a means to raise nursing to a respectable endeavor” (Judd & Sitzman, 2014, p. 71). The Nightingale Fund supported this school which was intended to train nurses to care for patients in the hospital and home, as well as to teach other nurses. Students were known as probationers and were taught for one year. Upon completion, they worked at the hospital for another 3 years. This Nightingale nursing education model was so successful that it was copied at other schools in Europe and the US (Judd & Sitzman, 2014). This Nightingale Model was the foundation for nursing education in the US beginning in the mid-1800s.

Nightingale wrote the famous Notes on Nursing in 1859-1860. Nightingale suffered from chronic illness for the remainder of her life, therefore she wrote to promote her ideas. She used her great intelligence to compose letters and consult with hospitals and to share her philosophy of nursing and health care. She consulted with many hospitals in England and beyond to collect data and support her ideas for improvement. Many assert that she was an early statistician and proponent of what we now call evidence-based practice. Dossey (as cited in Judd & Sitzman, 2014) stated that Nightingale was considered the first woman to gain membership in the Statistical Society of London. She developed a form of a pie chart called a coxcomb to illustrate data in an easy to understand manner.

Mary Seacole

Mary Seacole (1805-1881) was a Jamaican healer and caregiver. She learned her healing arts from her Jamaican mother who was known as a traditional healer. Her father was a Scottish soldier. Seacole spent much time nursing the sick, including victims of a cholera epidemic in Panama (Science Museum, n.d.).

When the Crimean War started in 1853, Seacole traveled to London and offered to serve on Nightingale’s team of nurses. Seacole was turned down, probably due to her ethnicity. Rather than return to Jamaica and abandon her plans, Seacole traveled to the Crimea and later established the British Hotel. This hotel served food, provided lodging, and became Seacole’s base for her expeditions to the battlefront in Crimea to offer her caregiving and nursing services (Science Museum, n.d.). Seacole visited Nightingale in Scutari to offer her nursing services, but was again refused (Ellis, 2009).

Summary of the Overview The Nightingale Years

We have explored the fascinating story of Florence Nightingale this week. As the founder of modern nursing, Nightingale’s story has a place in our hearts, our history, and our future.

Nightingale’s Accomplishments


  1. What were Nightingale’s greatest accomplishments?

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Mary Seacole

  1. What was Seacole’s relationship with Nightingale?


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