Birth of Florence Nightingale 

Australia #284 pictures Nightingale and a young nurse.

Nurse and social reformer Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, in Florence, Tuscany, Italy.

Nightingale’s family moved back to England the year after she was born. In 1838, the family toured Europe, during which time Nightingale met Parisian hostess Mary Clarke. The two women became close friends and Clarke instilled in Nightingale the idea that women could be equal to men, something her family never proposed.

US #1190 was issued to honor the nursing profession.

As early as 1837, Nightingale had several experiences she believed were calls from God to dedicate her life to serving others. She knew her family wouldn’t approve of her wish to be a nurse, and didn’t tell them until 1844. Despite her family’s objections, Nightingale studied the science of nursing. She also continued to travel, during which time she saw more signs from God.

In 1850, Nightingale visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein in Germany and met Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses who helped the sick and poor. She saw this as a turning point in her life and published her first work about what she saw and experienced, The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, for the Practical Training of Deaconesses, etc. While there she also had the opportunity to study medicine for four months.

In 1853, Nightingale was hired to work as superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in London. She remained in that role until October 1854. After that, she and a staff of 38 volunteer nurses that she had trained as well as 15 Catholic nuns were sent to the Ottoman Empire to provide aid to soldiers in the Crimean War. Upon arriving there, she was saddened to see the poor state of the soldiers, whose doctors and medical staff were overworked. There wasn’t enough medicine, conditions weren’t sanitary, infections were spreading, and there wasn’t equipment to process their food.

Hungary #3199-3203 – The top left stamp pictures Nightingale.

Nightingale then wrote to The Times (British newspaper) urging the government to help. As a result, they designed a new hospital that was built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles. The Renkioi Hospital was civilian-run and had a death rate of less than one-tenth that of the hospital Nightingale had visited earlier. It’s been suggested that Nightingale helped reduced the death rate from 42 percent to 2 percent, by making her own improvements to hygiene or pushing for the Sanitary Commission.

Great Britain #612-16 – The top right stamp above honors Nightingale.

While aiding these soldiers in the Crimean War, Nightingale became known as the Lady with the Lamp, inspired by a newspaper article, “She is a “ministering angel” without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”

US #1190 – Classic First Day Cover pictures Nightingale.

In 1855, the Nightingale Fund was established, and she used those funds to open the Nightingale Training School in 1860. She also wrote Notes on Nursing as a guide for her students, but it was also popular reading for the general public. Nightingale committed the rest of her life to promoting and organizing the nursing profession. During the American Civil War, she provided the Union with advice on field medicine and inspired the US Sanitary Commission. In the 1870s she also trained Linda Richards, who’s been called “America’s first trained nurse.”

Item #4591674 – 2004 Florence Nightingale commemorative coin.

Nightingale received many awards and honors over the years before her death on August 13, 1910, in Mayfair, London, England. Today, new nurses take the Nightingale Pledge, the Florence Nightingale Medal is awarded to distinguished nurses, and her birthday is celebrated as International Nurses Day.

Click here for more about Nightingale from the Nightingale Museum website.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. I wonder what were the two experiences that changed her life and strengthen her decision to dedicate her life to serving others?

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