Florence Nightingale’s legacy
Florence Nightingale was born this week in 1820 (on 12th May). She is widely known for her influence on elevating nursing from a menial task to a respectable and appreciated profession. In 19th century Victorian Britain, nursing was considered a dirty profession of questionable reputation and left in the hands of the uneducated or, in Florence’s own words, of “those who were too old, too weak, too drunken, too dirty, too stupid or too bad to do anything else”.
All this began to change with Florence’s mission to Scutari, where she and her team of trained nurses treated the wounded of the Crimean War. War reporters and soldiers informed the British public of her efforts in improving the hospital’s provision and her empathetic care for the soldiers. Florence became an icon while still in Constantinople and upon her return, she used her prominent status to improve public awareness and practice in hygiene and health matters, and introduce organised professional training for the nursing profession.
Her early years: a dire outlook on life
Less known are the years preceding her fame. From an upper-middle class family, Florence at an early age felt called to become a nurse. Considering the reputation nursing had at that time and the fact that having a profession was seen unfit for a woman of her class, her parents were appalled at her idea and forbade her any further pursuit of it.
Well educated and possessing a strong combination of intelligence and ambition, Florence’s prospect was that of an idle life in a golden cage, confined to being at home, busying herself with “lady-like” activities such as drawing, embroidery or reading. There was no chance of ever making her own decisions and live life as she wished (back then women had few rights of their own and were dependant on a male relative, usually their husband or their father), and so Florence became suicidal.
What made Florence persevere and finally secure her parent’s permission and financial support? Possibly a combination of stubbornness, resilience, fortunate circumstances and having a benevolent father. In short, not all but much of it was outside of her control and it could have gone very different. But had she given up, nothing of which did happen would have happened.
Florence’s life emphasises why we should not give up on our dreams. Everything seemed to stand against her, but eventually she overthrew social norms and within a few years had an entire nation’s perception changed. Maybe the realisation of her dream was not what she had expected it to be as a young girl, but she built a legacy that still lives on.
If you would like to visit Florence Nightingale’s memorial and hear more about her and other women pioneers, join us on our Inspiring Women tour!