Florence Nightingale grew up in Victorian England as the second child of a wealthy family. However, she was born in the Tuscan city of Florence (Italy), after which she was also named. When she first became interested in nursing, this met with strong disapproval from her family. Nevertheless, young Florence fought back and persevered: Nightingale assisted Theodor Fliedner in Kaiserswerth and ultimately opened her own nursing school in London.
In the year 1854, Great Britain entered the Crimean War against Russia. Reports of inadequate medical care for wounded soldiers caused Nightingale to leave for Scutari (now: Üsküdar, Turkey), where the armed forces kept a military hospital. Through her work there, medical services underwent a marked improvement and she herself became somewhat popular with the general public. In fact, the Times reported how she would make her rounds of the hospital, lamp in hand. Later, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow would immortalise Nightingale in his poem ‘Santa Filomena’ with the nickname ‘Lady with the Lamp’, which is still used today.
On a trip through Europe, Florence Nightingale discovered a young owl in Athens which had fallen from its nest. She nursed the owl back to health and brought it everywhere with her. Having been christened Athena, the owl died during the Crimean War. Nightingale had her stuffed and the owl can be seen today in the Florence Nightingale Museum in London.
Florence Nightingale received a good education from her father and studied statistics in great detail. Later, she would apply these skills and develop new types of diagrams. Nightingale was a pioneer of statistics in the fields of medicine and nursing. In 1859, she was the first woman to be admitted to the Royal Statistical Society.
In 1860, Nightingale established a nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, which still exists today (though in altered form). Here, an organisational and educational model was developed, which subsequently served as a model for many other nursing sites. Her book, Notes on Nursing: What It is and What It is Not, released the same year, included a first theory of nursing and also became a bestseller; 15,000 copies were sold in the first two months alone.