Florence Nightingale

Hard work: Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Florence Nightingale, who came from a respectable and well-to-do English Victorian family, became famous for her nursing skills during the Crimean War. Samuel Smiles admired Florence for 'bravely and nobly' doing her duty to improve soldiers' conditions in the field.

Privileged upbringing

However, as a teenager Florence complained about what she saw as her parents' empty, shallow life. She had many advantages compared to young women of the time, but she was unhappy, and questioned the purpose of life for the upper classes. Instead of enjoying the comfort and status girls of her background, she took an interest in the suffering, the lost and the downtrodden.

When she was 17, she persuaded her parents to let her travel with family friends to Rome. There she met her spiritual mentor, Madre Santa Columba, and became convinced she had a mission from God to help the sick.

Dedication to duty

When she returned to England, she dedicated herself to becoming an expert on running hospitals, visiting many of them and studying medical texts. She impressed everyone who met her with her skill in organisation and nursing and she had a flair for convincing institutions to adopt her reforms.

When the Crimean War broke out in 1854, the Secretary of State for War, Sidney Herbert, asked Florence to take a party of nurses to the front line to improve the wounded soldiers' conditions. She undertook this and re-organised the whole system of nursing. In later years she was awarded many medals and became a national heroine.

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