Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed The Widow by Fiona Barton. Tina enjoyed The Stormy Petrel by Mary Stewart and asked for other recommendations by that author. Jean dipped into the book that’s been on her TBR the longest — a book of pre-Shakespeare plays — her descriptions are fun and don’t miss the photos at the end!
I’ve had a soft spot for Florence Nightingale since I was first introduced to her, in about fourth grade, because we have the same birthday, May 12.
As I was researching for this post, I realized that she was so much more than a nurse or, even, the founder of nursing–which is what I’m sure I learned in the fourth grade. In fact, the Wikipedia article doesn’t even list nursing as the first of her identifiers. She was a social reformer and statistician.
I thought I might get ambitious and read a biography of her. Even though I’ve been able to keep Florence Nightingale: The Making of an Icon by Mark Bostridge for an excessive amount of time, due to the closing of the libraries, I’ve been too intimidated to open it — 546 pages, plus another 100 pages of notes and index.
So, instead, I’ll read the Wikipedia article and share some interesting facts.
Florence Nightingale founded the first secular nursing school in the world, in 1860, laying the foundation for modern professional nursing. This was after her experience of organizing a nursing corps to attend British soldiers during the Crimean War. To become a nurse, herself, Nightingale rebelled against societal and family expectations and was largely self-taught until she found training in a Lutheran religious community in Germany.
Given our current obsession with hand-washing, I was fascinated by Nightingale’s role in sanitation reform. Her efforts to improve sanitation in India and Britain are credited with a large decrease in death rates in both countries in the decades surrounding the turn of the 20th century. Scientists didn’t have our sophisticated understanding of germs, but they did know, partly due to the statistical work of Florence Nightingale, that sanitation limited the spread of infection.
Nightingale used graphical representations of statistics to make the case to British officials, who weren’t likely to read statistical reports, for better military hospitals.
Nightingale was also the first woman to be admitted to the Order of Merit, an honor given by the monarch to only 24 living people. The current members include Prince Philip, Prince Charles, David Attenborough, Tim Berners-Lee, and David Hockney. There are currently two women on the list, The Baroness Boothroyd, former Speaker of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom, and Ann Dowling, a professor of mechanical engineering at Cambridge who specializes in making quieter airplane engines.
Although only published privately during her lifetime, the essay “Cassandra,” is now seen as an important work on the development of feminist thinking in the 19th century. In it, she lamented the trained helplessness of women of her class when they could, instead, be trained to be of service to the world.
Seven temporary hospitals have been planned to go up around England in case the usual hospitals are over-run by COVID-19 patients — they were named after Florence Nightingale. So far, it seems, the Nightingale Hospitals haven’t received a huge influx of patients since the social distancing measures in England have slowed the spread enough to keep the NHS functional.
What have you learned about Florence Nightingale that we can celebrate this month for her 200th birthday?