Florence Nightingale was born, by some amazing coincidence, in the city of Florence, Italy on 12 May 1820. She was the second daughter of parents with enough money that they could name their children whatever they wanted. Her elder sister was called Parthenope. So there you go.
Her mother wanted Florence to marry a rich man, because she was very progressive. However Florence was a devout Christian, and when she was 17 she felt God was calling her to serve him. Possibly bringing him a lovely cup of tea.
At first Florence wasn’t sure how God wanted her to serve (sugar?), but by 1844 she was convinced she was to nurse the sick. Her parents, William and Frances were horrified because at that time nursing was definitely not a respectable job! Nurses were often drunk and conditions in hospitals were dreadful. Nothing changes, huh? Huh? Amirite?!
Her family tried to talk Florence out of it (“help people?! I mean come on! You could be bearing awful children for some rich dude!”), but she was determined. A man named Richard Monckton Miles tried to persuade Florence to marry him, but she refused even though she adored him (he was a total hottie), because his name was just too long.
Florence Nightingale was determined to sacrifice herself. Nevertheless it was several years before she got any nursing experience. In 1851 she went to the incredibly German sounding Kaiserwerth in Germany to learn. Then in 1853 she was given her first post reorganizing a small hospital in Harvey Street, London. The Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances. They knew how to name a hospital back then.
As a result of her work Sidney Herbert, the Secretary of War, invited her to go on a mission to soldiers wounded fighting the Russians. Florence Nightingale sailed with 38 nurses to Turkey on 21 October 1854. They had a great time. Total debauchery. They arrived in November, in time for Christmas!
Florence found military hospitals were dirty and bare, and didn’t even have branches of Costa. Great numbers of soldiers were dying of diseases. She worked very long hours to bring order and cleanliness to the hospitals and she became a heroine to the British public, who love to hear about a woman cleaning. They raised £45,000 for her to buy shoes and hats, but she spent it on important things because she was great.
Florence Nightingale returned to Britain in 1856, with her status in history confirmed as a totally awesome babe. She was commissioned to investigate the living conditions of British soldiers in peacetime.
In 1858 she published her findings as Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army. It instantly became the coffee table book of choice that Christmas. In 1860 Florence Nightingale opened the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St Thomas Hospital. She greatly raised standards of nursing. Every probationer who entered the school was interviewed by Florence and supervised by her (she was a bit of a control freak).
In old age Florence Nightingale suffered from ill health and she went blind. God and his sense of humour, huh? By the mid-1890s Florence was an invalid. However she was awarded the Order of Merit in 1907.
Florence Nightingale died on 13th August 1910.
Hear a totally made-up version of Florence in our latest episode…
Ludicrously adapted from A Brief Biography of Florence Nightingale by Tim Lambert