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Florence Nightingale: A Précis of Her Life F lorence Nightingale was born in 1820 in Florence, Italy, the second daughter of wealthy English parents taking an extended European wedding trip. She was raised in England at country homes: Lea Hurst, in Derbyshire, and Embley, in Hampshire. She was educated largely by her father, W.E. Nightingale, who had studied classics at Trinity College, Cambridge. At age sixteen Nightingale experienced a ‘‘call to service,’’ but her family would not permit her to act on it by becoming a nurse, which was then a lower-class occupation and a thoroughly unthinkable pursuit for a ‘‘lady.’’ Lengthy trips to Rome and Egypt were allowed, in 1847-48 and 1849-50 respectively. She had earlier (1837-39) been taken on a long trip with her family, mainly to Italy and France. These European trips not only improved her language skills (she was fluent in modern French, German and Italian and competent in ancient Latin and Greek) but exposed her to republican politics and Italian independence (she was in Rome and France during the revolts of 1848). Her parents finally permitted Nightingale to spend three months in 1851 at the (Protestant) Deaconess Institution in Kaiserswerth, near Düsseldorf, Germany, and several weeks in 1853 with Roman Catholic nursing orders in Paris. In 1853 her father gave her an annuity to permit her to become the superintendent of the Establishment for Gentlewomen during Illness, Upper Harley Street, London. She left there in 1854 to lead the first team of British women nurses sent to war, after the outbreak of hostilities in the Crimea. The British Army was poorly prepared for what became the Crimean War and the death rate from preventible disease was seven times that from wounds. The Barrack Hospital at Scutari, where Nightingale was stationed, was structurally unfit to be a hospital, had defective drains and had to be re-engineered by a team of visiting experts before the death rate could be brought down. Nightingale’s work as a social and public health reformer effectively began on her return from the Crimean War in 1856. Recog- / xi nized as a national heroine, she chose to use that renown to work behind the scenes for structural reforms that would prevent any recurrence of the war’s high death rates. She began by lobbying to get a royal commission established to investigate the causes of the medical disaster and to recommend changes. It is thought that Nightingale suffered from the chronic form of brucellosis after nearly dying from the disease during the war. She spent most of the rest of her life as an invalid, seeing people on a one-on-one basis and continuing to exert influence through her research and writing. The illness was certainly painful and incapacitating, but Nightingale learned how to work around it, focusing her hours of working time on the most important projects: those that had the best prospect of saving lives. Nightingale was baptized in the Church of England and remained in it for the rest of her life, although she often despaired of the paltry roles available for women, the minimal demands it made of its adherents in general and its social conservatism. Her experience of religious conversion in 1836 and call to service in 1837 were both shaped by the work of an American Congregational minister, Jacob Abbott, notably his book The Corner-stone. Her faith was nourished by broad reading, from the medieval mystics, liberal theologians and the German historical school, to contemporary sermons, popular devotional books, tracts and religious novels. Earlier generations of the family had been Unitarian by and large, but Nightingale’s paternal grandmother had been evangelical Church of England and was a strong influence. There is a strong Wesleyan element in Nightingale’s faith. Lutheran influences can be dated to her time at Kaiserswerth. God, for Nightingale, was a perfect Creator who made and ran the world by laws, which human beings could ascertain by rigorous, preferably statistical, study. With the knowledge thus gained people could then intervene for good, becoming God’s ‘‘co-workers.’’ Ongoing research is required, for human interventions, however well intentioned , could have negative unintended consequences. This approach appears in all the work Nightingale did, whether in health care or, more broadly, in social reform. To guide her in doing the research necessary to discover ‘‘God’s laws,’’ Nightingale developed an effective methodological approach. Her sources were L.A.J. Quetelet, a Belgian statistics expert, on...


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