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.