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The Nightingale Pledge

The Hippocratic Oath is a famous oath made by doctors, setting out the aims of doctors and their moral obligations. The version sworn by nurses, which is still popular in some forms, was named after Florence Nightingale, who definitely embodied it.

I solemnly pledge myself before God and in the presence of this assembly to pass my life in purity and to practise my profession faithfully.

I shall abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous, and shall not take or knowingly administer any harmful drug.

I shall do all in my power to maintain and elevate the standard of my profession and will hold in confidence all personal matters committed to my keeping and all family affairs coming to my knowledge in the practice of my calling.

I shall be loyal to my work and devoted towards the welfare of those committed to my care.

Oaths like this are still used, albeit in a modified form, binding nurses to uphold the same principles that Florence Nightingale herself embodied. Not a bad tribute to her!

 

Feminism

 

Unsurprisingly, people now think of Florence Nightingale as a feminist figure. She pioneered the work of women, went against her own family’s wishes and society’s mores to do so, and had a gift for mathematics as well as writing, the care of other people, and campaigning. She contributed to public health, literature, theology, and even statistics. She was undoubtedly formidably intelligent, and she most likely never had a true relationship with a man. She felt that her calling precluded such contact and, throughout her life, she remained focused on nursing and the betterment of the practice of nursing. She trained other women in the same principles, contributed to governmental initiatives to improve health, campaigned for changes to be made to hospitals and the way they were run, and basically changed everything about the way people were cared for by nurses.

And yet she herself wasn’t really a feminist. She called the work ‘man’s work’, and described herself as a ‘man of action’, feeling that women were typically lesser and too caught up in emotion – the same sort of stereotypes feminists deplore today.

Still, she’s an amazing role model and a sign of what an exceptional woman can do. Just because she doesn’t believe the same things women nowadays believe doesn’t mean we should forget her example. She had a huge influence on all kinds of things, not just the treatment of women, so maybe we should just celebrate her as an exemplary person.

After the war

After the war, Florence Nightingale didn’t rest. There was a fund set up in her name to train nurses, and she used money from it to set up a school for nursing – one which still exists today as part of King’s College in London. Using her platform, she spread the principles of sanitation and cleanliness, training nurses not just in the UK but on other countries too. Her work included the introduction of nurses to the workhouses, providing orphans, poor people and those with disabilities with a system of actually trained nurses who could offer genuine help. Her books were used as training manuals in nursing schools, as well as widely read by people who undertook nursing at home for sick relatives.

 

While she has been criticized at times for not being at the forefront of medical science, it’s important to remember that she never considered herself a doctor and never thought of herself as part of the medical profession in the same way. She was a nurse and her main contact was with patients, sometimes even in conditions where doctors wouldn’t attend to them. The whole concept of sanitation was championed by her and still proves of prime importance in our hospitals today. She was the first proper nurse in the way that we understand the term today, and we owe her our admiration.

 

The Crimean War

 

Florence Nightingale really became famous through her actions in the Crimean War. The image of her moving through the wards late at night, comforting and helping sick and wounded men, was pervasive. This is when she was called the ‘Lady of the Lamp’. People needed a hero, and Florence’s selfless dedication to her calling was inspirational. She fit the part perfectly.

In fact she was not the only nurse mobilized to help soldiers in terrible conditions during the war. She actually went to the Crimea with a staff of thirty-eight nurses she had trained herself, including her own aunt, and fifteen nuns. The conditions they found there were worse than they had expected. There was little medicine available, hygiene was bad, infections ran rampant, and soldiers were dying in swarms. She wrote a letter to the Times begging for help, and as a result, a new hospital was set up which boasted much higher survival rates.

The innovations Florence made have been questioned now by some, particularly as her medical beliefs weren’t always in line with modern ideas about how diseases spread. However, she encouraged sanitization and basic hygiene efforts like handwashing, and this undoubtedly helped prevent the spread of bacteria in the wards, saving the lives of many soldiers. The vast majority of deaths in the hospitals of the Crimean War were due to issues that could be reduced with hygiene, like dysentery, typhoid fever, typhus and cholera. After the war, she even collected evidence for a Royal Commission into the state of the living conditions of soldiers, and these improvements vastly reduced peacetime deaths among soldiers through her emphasis on sanitation, good nutrition and good living conditions.

Nightingale.net

Nightingale.net is a site to celebrate the achievements and historical importance of one of the world’s most famous nurses: Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp. She was a British woman who in the 1800s revolutionized the way women worked in healthcare, and the importance of nurses, while also impressing the men around her with her nerve, heroism and intelligence.

If you’re interested, I recommend you read more about her in any number of books and other websites – my site/blog can only begin to be a source of information. You can even read Florence’s own work for free by downloading it from Project Gutenberg, a legal archive of out of copyright works.

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.