Primary History - Famous People

Florence Nightingale  

  • Why is Florence Nightingale famous?

    How did she become famous?
    Florence Nightingale went to the Crimean War to nurse wounded soldiers. She and her nurses saved many lives.

    When did she live?
    Florence was born in 1820. This was ten years before Britain had its first steam passenger railway. She lived through the long reign of Queen Victoria. She died in 1910, after the age of electricity, cars and planes began.

    What Florence Nightingale did
    Florence Nightingale made hospitals cleaner places. She showed that trained nurses and clean hospitals helped sick people get better. She was the founder of modern nursing.

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  • Florence's childhood

    A rich family
    Florence's father was William Nightingale, a rich banker. William and his wife Fanny went to Italy after they married in 1818. Florence was born in Italy on 12th May. She was named after the city of Florence.

    Florence's sister
    Florence had an older sister, Frances Parthenope (known as 'Pop'). Pop was born in Italy too. The girls had lessons from their father. Florence was clever, and liked history and maths.

    The Nightingales had a winter home in Hampshire and a summer home in Derbyshire. They had servants.

    What did most women do?
    In Victorian Britain, poor women worked as servants or in factories. Rich girls like Florence were expected to marry and look after a home, perhaps doing charity work.

    Why Florence did not marry
    Florence was very religious. From the age of 16 she believed God wanted her to do important work. When she was 22, a young writer asked her to marry him. After seven years making up her mind, Florence said no.

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  • How to become a nurse?

    Choices for Florence
    Florence could go to parties. She could travel. In 1849 she visited Egypt. But she did not want a life of leisure. She wanted to be a nurse.

    Why her parents said no
    When Florence told her parents, they were shocked. Hospitals at this time were dirty and horrible. Doctors did operations with no anaesthetic. Most people who went into hospital died. Florence could not possibly work as a nurse.

    The trouble with nurses
    Nurses were not respectable or trained.

    Florence's parents sent her to Italy, to forget about nursing. She met a young Englishman, Sidney Herbert, and he told her rich people should help the poor. Florence came home determined to be a nurse.

    Florence gets her way
    In 1851, Florence went to Germany, to a Christian nursing school for women. She learned nursing for three months. It was hard work, but she loved it.

    First job in a hospital
    In 1853 a rich friend asked Florence to run a London hospital for 'Invalid Gentlewomen'. There was no pay, but Mr Nightingale gave her money. She made lots of useful changes in the hospital. At home, when her father and sister became ill, Florence nursed them.

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  • The Crimean War

    Britain goes to war
    In 1854 the Crimean War began. Britain, France and Turkey were fighting Russia. The Crimea was part of Russia. British soldiers went to the war in ships.

    Bad news
    People read about the war in newspapers. The news was at first bad. William Howard Russell was a reporter for The Times. He wrote that he had seen soldiers dying of hunger and cold. Many were sick. There was no proper medical care.

    Hospitals need nurses
    Things got worse after battles. Army hospitals were filled with wounded men. But without nurses, more soldiers were dying from diseases than in battles.

    Florence gets her chance
    Sidney Herbert was now Minister for War. He asked Florence to lead a team of nurses to the Crimea. This was her chance to do something important!

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  • The Lady with the Lamp

    Florence goes to war
    Florence and 38 nurses arrived in Turkey in November 1854. At first the Army doctors wanted nothing to do with her. Florence would not go away. So the doctors let the nurses into the Army hospital at Scutari. Florence got busy cleaning up.

    The horrible hospital
    The hospital was overcrowded and filthy. There were not enough beds, so men lay on the floor. They were not washed. There were no proper toilets. Drains were blocked. Rats ran everywhere. The smell was terrible.

    Green bread and diseases
    The patients ate bread that was mouldy-green, and meat 'more like leather', Florence said. Without good food, sick men could not get better. Without clean bandages, clean beds and clean water, many died from diseases.

    What Florence did
    Florence worked 20 hours a day. She went to the town to buy fresh food. She started clean kitchens, and a French chef named Alexis Soyer came to cook better meals. She paid workmen to clear the drains. Soon the hospital was cleaner, and fewer men were dying.

    Walking with her lamp
    At night Florence walked around the wards, to make sure the men were comfortable. She sat with dying soldiers. She wrote letters home for men who could not write. She carried a lantern, so the soldiers called her 'The Lady with the Lamp'.

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  • What Florence did next

    Home a heroine
    People in Britain gave money to a fund to help the 'Nightingale Nurses'. When Florence came home in 1856, people called her a heroine. The Sultan of Turkey sent her a diamond bracelet! Queen Victoria wrote a letter of thanks.

    Florence went home to Derbyshire by train. She called herself 'Miss Smith' so people would not know who she was. She did not want any fuss.

    Meeting the Queen
    Later Florence met Queen Victoria. She told the Queen what was wrong with Army hospitals. Florence went on visiting Army camps and hospitals. She wrote letters to important people.

    Change comes
    The Army started training doctors. Hospitals got cleaner. Soldiers got better clothes and food.

    In 1860 the Nightingale Training School for nurses was opened at St Thomas's Hospital in London. Florence's book Notes for Nursing helped many student nurses.

    Florence's last years
    Florence worked so hard she became ill. For the last 40 years of her life she stayed in bed most of the time. But she went on writing letters, collecting facts and figures. In 1907 she was awarded the Order of Merit. She was the first woman to receive this honour.

    Florence Nightingale died on 13th August 1910.

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Florence Nightingale Game

Florence Nightingale

Help Florence tend wounded soldiers in the Crimean War.

Fun Facts
  • The soldiers in hospital had a pet tortoise named Jimmy. You can see his shell at the Florence Nightingale Museum in London.

  • As a girl Florence had a pet owl named Athena.

  • Florence hated being famous. She called it 'the fuzbuz about my name'.

  • Among the medicines in her wooden medicine box, Florence had powdered rhubarb.

  • One of the first things Florence did at Scutari was start a laundry to wash dirty sheets and clothes.

  • In old age Florence liked cats for company. Visitors had to make an appointment to see her.

Other famous nurses

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Jump to: A-D | E-G | H-L | M-O | P-S | T-Z

A to D

Used to stop pain and put people to sleep during operations.
Helping people in need.
A cook in charge of a hotel or restaurant kitchen.
Crimean War
War from 1854 to 1856, fought near the Black Sea.

E to G

Places where things are made using machines.
A person who is first to start something.
Money collected for a special purpose, such as a charity.

H to L

A woman hero, someone doing brave deeds.
A lamp with a flame inside, burning oil.

M to O

Minister for War
Person in the government in charge of the Army (in Florence's time).
Order of Merit
An award given to very special people by the queen.

P to S

Someone in a hospital who needs medical care.
A person trained to look after sick people.
The time from a queen's (or king's) coronation until they die.
A person who writes for a newspaper.
People paid to work for rich people.

T to Z

A big room in a hospital, with beds for patients.