FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE – HEALTH AND NURSING PIONEER
by Dr. Lawrence Wilson
© March 2022, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc.
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was the founder of modern nursing, a leader of women, a prolific writer, and a social reformer. Her books and other writing are still widely read today. Her ideas still influence modern hospital design and social reform programs in many nations today.
Her picture has appeared on the English currency and on English postage stamps. The story of her life has been the subject of a number of theatrical productions and television programs.
In 1951, a movie was made about her. In 2010, the British Broadcasting Company did a documentary television program about her life. There is also a Florence Nightingale Museum in London, England.
Born on May 12, 1820, Florence grew up in a middle-class family in London, England. From the time she was young, she loved reading, languages and history.
Her parents realized she had great potential, but did not push her in any particular direction. Her mother, Sarah, and her father, a businessman, were both inspirations for her.
THE “AWAKENINGS” AND NURSING
At age 16, Florence experienced the first of several “awakenings”. She would sort-of day dream and hear a voice in her head. The voice first explained that she was born to help reduce suffering in the world. At first, the voice did not explain how to do this.
At the age of 18, she had an episode in which she was told that she would enjoy becoming a nurse. At first, this was a little frightening because nursing was not a glorious career, especially not for a woman.
Nursing was a new type of work for women in Great Britain and not considered particularly safe or rewarding. The pay was meager and the hours were long, mostly standing up the whole time.
She told her mother and father about the messages. Her family thought nursing was below her “status” as a middle-class young woman. However, she decided to look into the idea. It appealed to her quest for adventure, which was one of her qualities.
The desire to explore nursing persisted, and finally she arranged with her father to attend a two-week course in nursing in Germany. She did one other two-week training and decided she was ready to take a job.
This was a very inadequate education, but it was about all that was available at the time - about 150 years ago. Later in her life, she would drastically change all that!
At the time, there were very few women nurses. Most nurses were men. Women were expected to stay home and not work outside the home.
However, she liked working as a nurse, first in a women’s hospital for a few years and then in a men’s hospital. In those times, there were separate hospitals for men and women.
Marriage. Florence worked closely with and around men her whole life. She had a number of offers of marriage. However, she said she never found anyone whom she desired to marry.
Most young women her age would just have married the best person around, but this was not her style. She was willing to wait and pursue her nursing career by herself.
At her work, Florence quickly showed superior ability not only with nursing, but also to manage the hospital nursing program, motivate the nurses and patients, and improve their health outcomes. She was a planner, organizer, innovator and motivator!
Personality. Her secrets, she said, were 1) total respect for everyone and 2) a focus on team-building. Those are the two keys to success, she would say. She also would remind people that everyone has distinct skills to contribute. It is a matter of finding the right situation so that each person can use his or her skills and feel comfortable and protected.
Her personality was quiet and always dignified. She was not pushy or bossy. She tried to make it seem like her good ideas came first from others, since this causes less jealousy and fewer personality conflicts. She was very much a people-oriented person and liked the one-on-one aspect of nursing care.
She also wrote that one should never make excuses for mistakes that will occur no matter what one does and no matter how smart one is. This was a hallmark of her personality – make and accept no excuses.
In 1853, the Russian dictator, Czar Nicholas I, invaded the Eastern part of Ukraine, an area called the Crimea. The British army intervened to help stop the invasion.
NOTE: History is repeating itself in this area today (March, 2022).
Word came back to London that wounded British soldiers were dying of infections at an alarming rate in the field hospitals. This greatly upset the people of England.
An army captain approached Florence and asked if she would organize a women’s nursing group to help the war effort. This was unusual, but the army believed that perhaps women would do a better job with the wounded soldiers than the male nurses they had. In this instance, they were correct.
The army asked Florence to make an extremely dangerous voyage by ship during a war to the area of present-day Turkey to work at a field hospital. She was told she could be of great use in the war effort.
Besides the very hazardous voyage, nursing in a war zone presented other dangers. She could be killed by gunfire, disease was rampant, and soldiers are known to rape women.
Florence felt she would be protected and thought it was an excellent opportunity. She asked for volunteers at work and around London. In all, she brought 38 women to the field hospital, including 15 Catholic nuns. She was not a nun.
CONDITIONS AT THE FIELD HOSPITAL
When she first arrived, conditions were filthy at the field hospital. Food and supplies were also very low. She and her crew immediately set to work.
In addition to cleaning up, Florence had many ideas about how to heal people that were not the standard way of doing things. Some of these would later make her famous.
At this time in history, tuberculosis was the “killer disease” as cancer is today. The best therapy to heal the tuberculosis infection was to visit a sanitarium. These healing centers used natural methods such as sunbathing, fresh air, excellent food, rest, cleanliness, massage and other natural methods to strengthen and heal the body.
Some of the wounded soldiers had tuberculosis and Florence realized that the way to reduce all infection was to use the sanitarium methods. Ways that Florence improved care at the field hospital were:
- She insisted the hospital must have a lot of sunlight and fresh air at all times. The ultraviolet rays of the sun are far better than any antibiotic for killing most germs.
- She insisted that there be large windows for this purpose that face the sun, and that the windows could be opened to allow in fresh air.
- She insisted that everyone wash their hands for two minutes before touching anyone or anything in the hospital. Also, hands must be washed with soap at least 10 times a day. These rules have now been adopted widely, but at the time they were revolutionary.
- She also insisted upon clean clothes, clean bedding and clean bandages. Clean is a relative term because conditions at the field hospital made it impossible to have really clean clothing.
However, she and her crew made an effort and spent a lot of time washing clothing, bedding, bandages and more in large wooden tanks filled with soapy water that they changed every day.
Bedding and clothing was then hung out in the sun to dry. The sun also sterilized the clothing.
This practice was quite revolutionary. There were no washing machines and washing so much was very tedious and time-consuming. But it saved many, many lives.
- She also made sure the wounded soldiers spent time outdoors, when possible, sunbathing and breathing fresh air.
These natural methods of stopping infections worked very well. Sadly, some of these excellent ideas have been forgotten today in hospital design.
For example, today often hospital windows are small, tinted, and do not open. Many hospitals also do not have balconies or courtyards where the sick people can sunbathe and breathe fresh air. Not surprisingly, infections are today once again a serious problem in our hospitals.
The military surgeons did not always agree with Florence, but she persisted, as she always did, in a gentle way, and soon won them over. Infection rates dropped significantly, and word got back to England about her success. Her intelligence and kind manner won her great admiration and respect.
THE WOMAN WITH THE LAMP
She became known as the “Woman with the lamp”. She would often work the night shift and check all the soldiers holding a small kerosene lamp to see where she was going.
She knew that getting one’s sleep was absolutely essential for healing. Visiting the men at night was needed because now and then a soldier was in pain and needed a remedy to sleep.
She used herbs for this purpose and became very skilled in their use. She did not like the use of harsh drugs such as opium and morphine that were standard at the army hospitals. They were toxic and actually killed some men.
The title “the lady with the lamp” was also given to her because she was a lady of light in a dark time of war.
Florence survived the experience at the field hospital and learned a lot. When the war ended she returned to England.
LIFE WITH THE QUEEN
One day, she learned she would receive a medal of honor from the new queen of England, queen Victoria (1819-1901). When they met, Florence was not shy! She smiled at the queen and told her there was a lot of work to do in the hospitals of London and she could do it if given the chance.
The queen was interested and invited Florence to have lunch with her to discuss it. After a few such visits, they became close friends – a friendship that lasted for years.
With the help of the queen, Florence was able to institute reforms in the entire British hospital system. She taught the same natural methods of preventing and healing illness that she had applied in the Crimean war. Her methods worked amazingly well to reduce infections and improve hospital outcomes.
One area Florence Nightingale is known for is hospital design. She helped architects design over 100 hospitals mostly in England but also around the world. Her basic designs became a model for hospital construction and operation the world over and are still studied today. This was just one of her major accomplishments.
In the southwest of America, one can visit the Prescott, Arizona Veterans Administration Hospital to view a facility based upon her design. It is a group of separate buildings positioned so that all can receive lots of sunlight.
The windows are large and can open. The buildings have a feeling of openness and cleanliness, and there is space between the buildings where patients can sunbathe and breathe fresh air. There are many such facilities all over the Western world.
In 1860, Ms. Nightingale established the first full-fledged college of nursing in conjunction with St. Thomas Hospital in London. Today, it is part of King's College in London. It was and still is a leader in nursing education.
Previous to the opening of this school, nursing had been a haphazard occupation with little formal training. Today, Ms. Nightingale’s birthday is celebrated in many nations as International Nurse’s Day.
HEALTH AND LIFESTYLE CONSULTANT
Florence Nightingale was more than a friend to the queen of England. She became one of the queen’s most trusted advisors in the area of women, children, families and society. In other words, she became a social welfare, health care and lifestyle consultant.
She instituted many programs in England to improve nutrition, sanitation, public health and the health care of the British people. Many of her ideas were copied the world over.
In fact, this work took up the rest of her life and was far more important than the nursing work for which she is well known.
BOOKS AND OTHER WRITINGS
Ms. Nightingale wrote many books and pamphlets. Most of her writing is about nutrition, healthy lifestyles and how to heal disease. She wrote for the public and for physicians. She also wrote simple books for children on these topics. The queen would often get her material published and make sure many people read it.
Later in her life she also wrote about religion and esoteric sciences.
Florence wrote over 200 books, pamphlets, stories and other educational materials. It is quite a remarkable writing career for anyone, let alone someone who was organizing a nursing school and conducting many other projects at the same time.
A LEADING WOMEN’S ADVOCATE
Ms. Nightingale’s achievements were all the more remarkable because at this time in Victorian England, women did not attend college and usually did not enter professions. They were expected to stay home and bear children.
Florence was fortunate in that her father made sure she received far more education than most English women or men. He had her learn Latin, Greek, Italian, history, many sciences, writing and mathematics.
She wrestled with many of the same issues that women today face – whether to marry, when to marry, whether to stay at home or work outside the home, and more.
She inspired many women of her time, and still does so today. She taught women to use their brains and their bodies for service to humanity to better the condition of the world.
Florence Nightingale was a pioneer in the fields of nutrition and lifestyle. She prepared the way for modern development science. For example:
Excellent nutrition is critical for healing. Florence learned this early in her nursing work and taught it for the rest of her life to anyone who would listen.
She wrote many pamphlets and other educational materials about the importance of eating only fresh, properly cooked food and avoiding too much fruit.
Lifestyle. She taught the soldiers she worked with and everyone else that lifestyle is the key to a long and healthy life. She taught to go to bed early, get plenty of rest, don’t overdo exercise, and don’t have a lot of ordinary sex.
Rubbing the hands (and feet). One of Florence’s healing methods was to hold the hand of a wounded soldier or anyone who was ill and firmly rub all around the palm of the hand, including the fingers. We recommend this method, called reflexology, a powerful healing method.
Enemas. Florence knew that enemas could reduce the pain of war wounds and were excellent for many other purposes. She noticed how patients felt better when they received an enema, even if it seems unusual.
We observe the same thing. For details about our research, read Coffee Enemas.
Retracing. Florence understood the unusual phenomenon of retracing, something that few people today understand.
She learned to look for the flare-up, as she called it. This, she said, was evidence of deep healing and true regeneration of the body.
Teaching and understanding these flare-ups or purification reactions is one of the central themes of this website and of development science. For details, read Retracing And Healing Reactions. Also, read Introduction To Development and Introduction To The Development Program.
Much more can be said about Florence Nightingale, truly a natural health pioneer of the nineteenth century. Indeed, others have written biographies about Florence’s long and productive life. I strongly suggest reading them for their content and for inspiration.