Painted and leaded glass window panel at the Florence Nightingale Museum, London
© David Gee/Alam
Saluting our nurses
We’re celebrating the heroes among us on International Nurses Day. Today, 12 May 2020 is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, known as the Lady with the Lamp, who is credited with transforming and modernising nursing. Born into a wealthy English family living in Italy, she spurned the traditional Victorian role of housewife to embark on a career in nursing and social reform. After training in Germany and working as a nurse in London, War Secretary Sidney Herbert sent Nightingale and 38 women she had trained as nurses to help care for the wounded of the Crimean War.
When she arrived, she discovered the soldiers were getting poor care from overworked staff in unhygienic conditions. She pleaded with the government to do more to improve things and introduced basic hygiene practices (like hand washing, regular changing of sheets and bandages) in the hospital. When she returned to England after the war, she pursued a data-driven campaign to improve sanitation and nutrition in the Army, hospitals and working-class homes.
In her later career, she founded the first school of nursing in England, now known as the Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Palliative Care. More recently she has lent her name to the temporary hospitals set up as part of the NHS response to the coronavirus pandemic.