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Florence Nightingale: A Précis of Her Life Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, 1820, 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, 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, then a lowerclass occupation and thoroughly unthinkable for a ‘‘lady.’’ Lengthy trips to Rome and Egypt were allowed (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 (French, German and Italian) but exposed her to republican politics and Italian independence (she was in Rome and France during the revolts of 1848). Nightingale was finally permitted to spend three months at the (Protestant) Deaconess Institution in Kaiserswerth, near Düsseldorf, Germany, in 1851 and several weeks with Roman Catholic nursing orders in Paris in 1853. Her father gave her an annuity in 1853 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. The British Army was poorly prepared for that war and the death rate from preventible disease was seven times that from wounds. The Barrack Hospital at Scutari where she 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 public health and social reformer effectively began on her return from the Crimean War in 1856. Recognized as a national heroine, she chose to work behind the scenes for structural changes to prevent that war’s high death rates from ever recurring. She lobbied to get a royal commission established to inves- / xi tigate the causes of the medical disaster and recommend changes. She herself briefed witnesses, analyzed data and strongly influenced the thrust of the report. At the same time, at the request of the war minister , Lord Panmure, she prepared a ‘‘précis’’ on the problems of the war, which was to take six months, but which turned out to be 900-page report two years later. This she had printed privately and distributed to trusted friends and collaborators. Both the ‘‘précis,’’ Notes on the Health of the British Army and the official royal commission report were finished in 1858. Nightingale fell ill while doing this work, it is thought from the chronic form of brucellosis, the disease from which (again this is conjecture ) she nearly died in the war. She spent most of the rest of her life as an invalid, seeing people on a one-to-one basis and making her influence by research and writing. The illness was certainly painful and incapacitating, but Nightingale learned how to work around it, to focus her hours of working time on the most important projects, that is, those with 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 often despairing of its paltry role for women, the minimal demands it made of its adherents generally and its social conservatism. Her experience of religious conversion in 1836 and call to service in 1837 (the latter specifically dated 7 February and frequently referred to) were both shaped by reading the work of an American Congregational minister, Jacob Abbott, notably The Corner-stone. Her faith was nourished by broad reading, from the medieval mystics and German historical works to religious novels. The family had been largely Unitarian in earlier generations, but her paternal grandmother was evangelical Church of England. Her parents took the family to the Church of England while at Embley, Wesleyan chapels while at Lea Hurst. God for Nightingale was a perfect Creator who made and runs the world by laws, which human beings can ascertain by rigorous, preferably statistical, study. With the knowledge thus gained we can then intervene for good, thus becoming God’s ‘‘co-workers.’’ Ongoing research is required, for human interventions, however well intentioned , may have negative, unintended consequences. This approach...


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