#Nightingale2020: Remembering nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale 200 years after her birth

Known as ‘the lady of the lamp’, Florence Nightingale is celebrated for as a founder of modern nursing, using statistics and data visualisation to improve the field of medicine, and being a strong and empathic woman fighting for social reform. 

2020 marks the bicentennial celebration of Nightingale’s birth with activities, conferences and exhibitions throughout the year. This blog highlights some of the striking objects in Europeana related to Florence Nightingale’s life and work, and gives you more information on where to take part in the #Nightingale2020 celebrations.

Crimean War

Nightingale was born into an upper-class Victorian British family. She enjoyed a privileged upbringing, influenced by the extensive social sphere of her family that led to her adopting a liberal-humanitarian and feminist world view. She travelled extensively throughout Europe and North Africa during her youth. 

Florence Nightingale with Charles Holte Bracebridge and Selina Bracebridge in a Turkish street. Oil painting by Jerry Barrett, 1859. Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom, CC BY.

Even though her family was opposed to her drive to educate herself and become a nurse, Nightingale went her own way by continuing her travels, becoming a political advisor and receiving medical training in Germany. 

She is perhaps best known for her role in the aid of the wounded and sick in the Crimean War. 

In 1854, Nightingale left for Crimea together with other volunteer nurses and medical staff. Florence arrived at a military barracks in Scutari, where she found patients in horrible conditions caused by lack of resources and hygiene. There, she began to implement measures to improve the hygiene in the barracks and reduce mass infections. 

Crimean War: Florence Nightingale checking on her patients and administrating medicine at Scutari Hospital. Coloured lithograph by J.A. Benwell. Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom, CC BY.

Nightingale wrote to The Times in England to ask for financial aid in the improvement of conditions for patients, and called on the Sanitary Commission to provide sewage systems and other improvements to sanitation. 

Florence Nightingale receiving wounded soldiers at Scutari Hospital. Process print by S. Bellin after J. Barrett. Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom,CC BY. 

Florence Nightingale’s work in the Crimean War received extensive coverage in the British press, which aided her efforts and made her a well-known figure. An article in The Times described her in passing as ‘the lady with the lamp’, referring to how she made the rounds at night holding an oil lamp to check on the sick and wounded.

Crimean War: Florence Nightingale at Scutari Hospital. Aquatint after H. Rae. Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom, CC BY. 
Brass oil lamp, symbol of the nursing profession. 1930-1950, Sörmlands Museum, Sweden, 

For her work and dedication during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale received a brooch from Queen Victoria, referred to as the ‘Florence Nightingale Jewel’. Nightingale and Queen Victoria maintained written correspondence during the Crimean War, convincing the Queen to reform the military hospital system in 1857. After her work in Scutari, she continued fighting for hospital reform and social justice back in the United Kingdom. 

Writing and Social Reform

In 1855, a  fund was established to found the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London – the first school for nursing to be founded worldwide. Nurses that trained there went on to start their own schools for nursing around the United Kingdom and Europe.

Certificate of attendance given to Hilda Foulkes for attending 81 out of 83 classes during the quarter ending September 30th 1923. Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom, CC BY.
Red Cross Sisters, Gustav Borgen, 1895. Oslo Museum, Norway, CC BY-SA.

Florence Nightingale wrote several books and treatises on nursing and medical science. Her most influential writing – ‘Notes on Nursing’ – is a practical guide to ensure hygiene and health and safety standards in hospitals and by nursing staff. It is often seen as the foundation of the modern nursing profession. 

‘The Organisation of Nursing’ by Florence Nightingale. Science Museum London, Wellcome Collection, CC BY.

Throughout her life, Nightingale wrote about 200 books, pamphlets and articles. From 1857 onwards, she became increasingly bed-bound, but was still extremely productive in her writing efforts, furthering the fields of medical care and increasingly focusing on social reform and feminism. Most of Nightingale’s written work was created in her house in Embley Park.

Embley Park, Hampshire, home of Florence Nightingale. Lithograph after Parthenope Nightingale, ca. 1900. Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom, CC BY.
Photogravure of Florence Nightingale, in bed. 1906, Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom, CC BY.

Legacy and Remembrance

Championed as the founder of modern nursing, at the forefront of the fight for free universal access to healthcare, and an inspiration to the women’s right’s movement, today several hospitals are named after Nightingale and multiple statues have been erected in her honour. Her likeness and legacy has appeared on coins, banknotes and postage stamps. 

Großbritannien: 2010 Florence Nightingale. Münzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany, CC BY-NC-SA.
30 + 5 cèntims Florence Nightingale. 1939, Museu Gabinet Postal de Barcelona (Col·lecció Marull), Spain, CC BY-NC.

Since 1965, International Nurses day has been celebrated annually on Florence Nightingale’s birthday, 12 May. Several theatre plays, books, documentaries, TV series and films have been created about her work and life.

In het voetspoor van Florence Nightingale, 2012. Atria, Kennisinstituut voor Emancipatie en Vrouwengeschiedenis, the Netherlands, CC BY-NC-ND.

2020 has been declared by the WHO as the year of the Nurse and Midwife, 200 years after Nightingale’s birth. Throughout the year you’ll be able to visit museum exhibitions, attend conferences, do guided walks and tours, and participate in other remembrance activities surrounding Florence Nightingale’s bicentenary celebrations. 

By Jolan Wuyts, Europeana Foundation

Feature image: Coloured mezzotint: Florence Nightingale. J. Butterworth. Wellcome Collection, United Kingdom, CC BY.

4 thoughts on “#Nightingale2020: Remembering nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale 200 years after her birth

  1. Beautiful remembrance of one of the many strong women throughout history! Perfectly fitting this years theme of International Women’s Day: I am Generation Equality, realizing women’s rights.

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