The Early Life of Florence Nightingale

 

Florence Nightingale was born in 1980 in Florence, in Tuscany, and her parents named her – as they had done her older sister as well – after the place where she was born. Her family were quite wealthy and as well as owning property in Tuscany, they had several estates in Britain, in Derbyshire. This is where the young Florence grew up. Her parents were Frances Nightingale, née Smith, and William Edward Nightingale. There was a strong tradition in her family of social activism and responsibility: her grandfather was the famous abolitionist, politician, and Unitarian thinker, William Smith.

Throughout her life, Florence felt she was called by God to become a nurse and promote the welfare of others. She first felt that call at the age of seventeen, and despite her family’s opposition and the general opinion in society that wellbred women should be focused on good marriages and refinement, she trained to be a nurse. Despite a nineyear courtship with one of her suitors, Florence chose to remain unmarried and dedicated to her calling.

In her life she travelled extensively, and was especially touched by her experiences in Egypt. She found there a sense of “spiritual grandeur” that undoubtedly appealed to her own spiritual experiences, and wrote movingly of her time there in her diaries.

Ultimately, Florence’s father chose to support her and gave her a yearly income of £500, which at the time was suitable for a very comfortable lifestyle, allowing her to pursue her career in nursing. In her early life she was influenced by other strong and independent women, like Mary Elizabeth Clarke. Despite their age gap of nearly thirty years, the two women had a strong friendship and Clarke interested Florence in the issues of women’s rights, and introduced her to the idea that women could be equal to men – an idea that Florence’s own mother would certainly not have ever thought to express, and probably never believed at all.