Lady with the Lamp

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We all know that the “Lady with the Lamp” was our very own-Florence Nightingale (12 May, 1820- 13 August 1910). She was a social reformer, statistician and founder of modern nursing. She spent her night rounds, carrying a lamp, by tending to the wounded which gave her the name ‘Lady with the Lamp’. She came into prominence after the Crimean War where she took care of the wounded soldiers with her battalion of 38 nurses under her.


She was the daughter of father, William Shore Nightingale and mother, Frances Nightingale. Her mother was from an affluent merchant family and enjoyed public gatherings whereas she did not like social gatherings or writing unnecessary pleasantries to their relatives or friends. Her father was a wealthy landowner who inherited two estates, one in Derbyshire and the other in Embley Park. She was provided with classical education including studies in French, German and Italian. She excelled in mathematics, history and philosophy. Her mother wanted her to learn home management skills but she preferred having engaging discussions over political and social issues with her father.

Since young she was philanthropic and enjoyed taking care of the ill and poor. So, by the time she turned 16, she had decided to pursue nursing as her profession. During those times women were allowed only to take part in tending to the wounded and this might also be the reason for her being bent towards this field. When she told her parents that she wanted to become a nurse, they blatantly refused saying that it was a mean job for a woman of an accomplished family. She thought that sewing and writing letters and hosting parties are senseless works which only make a woman unaccomplished. She wrote an essay “Cassandra” which protests against the life’s of Victorian women which she saw in her mother and sister.

Cassandra is the bitterness of Nightingale at the position of educated women in the society. She wrote that women could find no outlet to their passion, intellect and moral activity in the cold and oppressive society. She writes that a man’s job was always more important than what a woman was doing. She writes that a woman was ‘never supposed to have an occupation of sufficient importance to not be interrupted.’ She continues that this inactivity leads to an accumulated energy which at night makes them full of nervous energy and feels as if they are going mad. The essay clearly mirrors her feelings towards the society which wanted her to be the conventional woman. She rebuked women (like her mother and sister) who stopped other women from breaking this monotonous circle of passivity.

After years of fighting and denying to get married, her parents gave in to her demands in 1951. She started her studies for being a nurse. The time also saw an up rise from other feminists for their voting rights and equality in different professions. Nightingale was a stern woman who cannot be termed as a staunch feminist because she did not support such movements. She believed that she had paved a beautiful path for women in the world of medicine and that women should follow her. Many feminists were against this behavior of Nightingale.

Nightingale believed that family life usually chained a woman’s feet, as she writes in her ‘Cassandra’ that all accomplished women in novels or in history had no family ties to pull them back. She writes, “The family uses people, not for what they are, nor for what they are intended to be, but for what it wants them for—for its own uses. It thinks of them not as what God has made them, but as the something which it has arranged that they shall be” Nightingale denounces the ‘always present eyes of the mothers and sisters’ which might be a slight reference to her mother and sister who kept watching her during the years of her protest to become a nurse. Nightingale steers clear of the usual marriage and love story plot as in her real life.


Earlier, nursing was not a proper profession which needed training but Nightingale established the modern form of nursing. She did not believe in the concept of infection and censured the unsanitary conditions of hospitals. She understood the importance of health date. She became the pioneer or visual presentations and used pie charts and graphs to present data. She is known to have developing a pie chart also known as Nightingale Rose Diagram to illustrate the mortality rate at the hospital she was working in. She called these visual diagrams as ‘coxcomb’. She used coxcombs to present reports on the condition of medical care in the Crimean War to the civil servants who were unable to understand the conventional statistic reports. During the Crimean War, The Times reported: “She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds” She promoted the profession of nursing and wrote the book “Notes on Nursing” (1859) as a general guide to a sanitary healthy life which every individual should know, distinct from professional medical knowledge and the book is still in print today. She mentored Linda Richards, America’s first professional Nurse, who later became a great pioneering nurse in USA and Japan. Her major contribution was in raising nursing to the level of a respectable profession for women. She established The Florence Nightingale School for Nurses at St Thomas’ Hospital.


In her later life she made detailed reports on sanitation of Indian rural life and was the main reason for the introduction of hygienic and improved medical service in India. In 1883 Nightingale was awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria. In 1907 she was appointed as the Lady of Grace of the Order of St John and also became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit. Karl Pearson called her as the ‘Prophetess’ of statistics.


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