Thought and talk

Europe 1820

Named after the city of Florence (Italy) where she was born on May 12, 1820, during her English parents two year European honeymoon, it is not hard to visualize the child continuing her comfortable, wealthy life, with her elder sister Parthenope, who was named after the ancient Greek city of Naples, where she was born (also during her parents European honeymoon) and throughout their childhood moving between their parents, two-well-to-do homes in England.

The father, William Nightingale who had attended Cambridge University in England, generously past on his knowledge and educated both of his daughters but it was Florence who excelled in the “unladylike” subject of mathematics.

The purpose of educating a woman was to heighten her marriage prospects by attracting wealthy suitors.

Marriage prospects

In 1837 Florence Nightingale1 was seventeen years of age, very popular and admired for her academic qualities as well as her looks – her marriage prospects were excellent.

We will never know why Florence didn’t accept the social mores of the day and stay at home for thought and talk that would lead to a wealthy marriage.

We will never know why Florence began to visit a class of people who were deemed to be in a ‘lower’ position in society than herself and never know why she chose to go in a different direction than that, which her breeding decreed.

Direction chosen

But Florence Nightingale did begin by going beyond the thought and talk of social issues in 1837 when she began visiting the local people in their homes in villages close by to observe their health and conditions of living.

By 1850 the young woman was not so young, she was thirty years of age and still unmarried – perhaps this caused her parents so much concern that they allowed her to go on a tour of Europe with a group of friends.

On the last leg of this European holiday the group visited Pastor Fliedner’s, “hospital and school for deaconesses at Kaiserswerth, near Dusseldorf in Germany” before returning to Britain.

Crimean War

At the time nursing was not a respectable profession for ladies of the upper class but as this was a directive position, which involved caring for the wealthy upper class, Florence Nightingale may have had a measure of parental and social approval.

One year later Florence Nightingale returned to Pastor Fliedner’s hospital in Kaiserswerth and after completing three months nurses training she was appointed Superintendent of the “Establishment for Gentlewomen During Illness” at No. 1 Harley Street, London in 1853.

The intervention of the Crimean War and the Minister for War, Sidney Herbert who appointed Florence to introduce female nurses into the military hospitals in Turkey in 1854 – this made Florence Nightingale a household name and made her famous.

Trust and respect

When Florence and her team of 38 nurses first arrived at the Barrack Hospital near Constantinople they were ignored but as casualties increased they were accepted because there was no alternative.

Florence’s work had a holistic approach and she gained the respect of the enlisted men. She introduced “reading rooms” for them and wrote letters and sent the soldier’s “wages home to their families”.

The soldier’s respect was evident when they named Florence the “Lady-in-Chief”.

Florence Nightingale is also known as the lady with the lamp.

Public subscription

Britain showed its gratitude to Florence for her work during the Crimean War by establishing a public subscription in 1855  to enable Florence “to continue her reform of nursing in the civil hospitals of Britain”.

John Gale, the Father of Canberra, writes that he collected funds “just after the close of the Crimean War for the widows and children of those who had fallen during the war. (As the war did not end until 1856 he may have been collecting for the Florence Nightingale public conscription fund. Gale arrived as a probationary missionary in 1854. He may have thought the war had ended or he may have been told that it had ended by his superiors because of the “tyranny of distance” from England and the difficulty of getting up to date information).2

After the war Florence’s friend Sidney Herbert relied on Florence’s medical expertise and headed an investigation into the “medical aspects of the British Army”.

Florence may have kept statistics during her hospital work and work during the Crimean War because in 1860 she was the “first woman to be elected” to the Statistical Society “for her contribution to Army statistics and comparative hospital statistics”.

Nursing expanded

In 1860 with the subscription funds “she established the Nightingale Training School for nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital”.

At the Nightingale School for nurses Florence did not take the role of Matron, that was Mrs Sarah Wardroper’s job. Florence’ saw her role as that of a ward sister systematically “checking the ward diaries and reports” of the probationary nurses one year of training.

Florence Nightingale, the product of wealthy parents Frances and William Nightingale made nursing a respected profession during a time when women with an education did not participate in nursing activities.

Making a difference

Florence was also a prolific writer – her 1860 book, Notes on Nursing has been “translated into eleven foreign languages and is still in print today.”

In this book Florence wrote to her worldwide audience of health professionals “the principles of nursing: careful observation and sensitivity to the patient’s needs”.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) did not begin with the intention of becoming famous and doing work that would change worldwide views – this was ultimately a consequence of her beginning with a great spirit of boldness and decisiveness.

Quotable quote

The most important thing

Is to begin

And to begin

With a great spirit

Of boldness

And decisiveness 3


Footnotes / Resources

1. Details on Florence Nightingale was accessed at:
<> (and other pages)
2. (i) Gale, John. Canberra Its History and Legends. Queanbeyan, 1991. p 4. John Gale (now known as the Father of Canberra) who had recently arrived in Australia as a probationary missionary for the Methodist Church, and being so far from England must have thought (or been told by his superiors) that the Crimean War had ended as that is what he writes in his book. (ii) The term “Tyranny of Distance” is now a popular expression in Australia, but I cannot think, which Australian-history, writer made this quote significant (it is possible it was Robert Hughes but I am not sure, so don’t quote me on this). From the first settlement of white Australians in 1788 until the 20th century, because of the distance from all the other continents Australia was isolated and distance was the main “tyranny” that Australians came up against –  the “tyranny of distance” has got shorter and shorter as technology and transport has advanced until now with the advent of the internet we communicate in seconds and sadly can be destroyed by remote control firearms almost as fast.
3. (i) Connee-Colleen, © Queanbeyan Outlook (16) “Most important thing is to begin,” The Queanbeyan Age, May 24, 2005. p.5. (ii) Also see on this site the post (pub May 3, 2010), “All guilty, Sins of Omission,” which explains “the most important thing quote,” that was originally combined with this “Thought and talk” post in the same Queanbeyan Age Outlook article.

All content on Before Canberra Copyright © Connee-Colleen unless otherwise noted – apologies extended if inadvertently a copyright has not been acknowledged – please inform so this can be rectified.

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