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Florence Nightingale

Why is Florence Nightingale famous?

Florence Nightingale is a famous British nurse who lived from 1820-1910. She helped to make hospitals more sanitary places and wrote books about how to be a good nurse.

Much of what we know about clean, organised hospital conditions today is thanks to Florence’s hard work and research. She began her nursing career during the Crimean War and campaigned for better hospital conditions for the wounded soldiers there.

She is considered the founder of modern nursing.

Top 10 facts

  1. She was born in Florence, Italy, which is how she got her name!
  2. At first her family didn’t want her to become a nurse because they didn’t think it was a very nice job to have but Florence was very determined and eventually got their consent.
  3. Florence helped to treat wounded soldiers during the Crimean War, and made sure the hospital was clean. The soldiers were very grateful for Florence’s kindness.
  4. During the Crimean War, she was nicknamed ‘The Lady with the Lamp’ because she would work all night to make sure the soldiers had what they needed, like water and warm blankets.
  5. In 1883 Florence met Queen Victoria, who awarded her the Royal Red Cross medal to thank her for all of her hard work as a military nurse.
  6. In 1860, she set up the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas' Hospital in London.
  7. Florence was a talented mathematician who proved, using statistics, that keeping hospitals clean has a very beneficial effect on patients' recovery rates. She was the first woman to be elected to the Royal Statistical Society.
  8. International Nurses Day is celebrated every year on 12 May, Florence Nightingale’s birthday.
  9. Thanks to Florence's work and achievements, people's view of nursing was transformed and it became a respectable profession for women.
  10. The International Red Cross (which was founded thanks to her work) awards the Florence Nightingale Medal to nurses who have given exceptional care to people who are sick and wounded, in war or peace.
  • 12 May 1820
    Born in Florence, Italy
  • 7 February 1837
    Dreamt that God told her she had a great mission in life, which led her to think about becoming a nurse
  • 1844
    Announced her decision to train for nursing
  • 1851
    Studied nursing at the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserwerth, Germany
  • 22 August 1853
    Became superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen, in London
  • 1853-1856
    The Crimean War: Russia v. UK, France, Sardinia and the Ottomon Empire about owning territories in the Ottomon Empire
  • 21 October 1854
    Left for the main British camp in the Crimea, along with 38 volunteer nurses trained by Florence
  • 4 November 1854
    Arrived at the Selimiye Barracks in Scutari in Turkey
  • May 1855
    Became very ill with Crimean fever, a chronic disease
  • 16 March 1856
    Became general superintendent of the Female Nursing Establishment of the Military Hospitals of the Army
  • August 1956
    Returned to England from Crimea
  • September 1856
    Visited Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to tell them about the poor conditions of military hospitals and asked that a Royal Commission investigate the health of the British Army
  • 1858
    Published Notes on Matters affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army
  • 1858-59
    Worked to establish a Royal Commission to investigate health conditions in India
  • 1859
    Published Suggestions for Thought to Searchers after Religious Truths
  • 1859
    Published Notes on Nursing: What it is and What it is Not
  • 1859
    Became a member of the Royal Statistical Society
  • 9 July 1860
    Opened the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas' Hospital
  • 1861
    Opened the School of Midwifery Nursing at King’s College Hospital
  • 1868
    Opening of The East London Nursing Society
  • 1874
    Opening of the Workhouse Nursing Association and National Society for Providing Trained Nurses for the Poor
  • 1883
    Awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria
  • 1890
    Opening of the Queen's Jubilee Nursing Institute
  • 1901
    Became completely blind
  • 1904
    Appointed a Lady of Grace of the Order of St John
  • 1907
    Awarded the Order of Merit
  • 1908
    Given the Honorary Freedom of the City of London
  • 1910
    Awarded the Badge of Honour by the Norwegian Red Cross Society
  • 13 August 1910
    Died in London, UK

Did you know?

  • Florence was named for the city where she was born – Florence, Italy
  • She had just one sibling – an older sister named Frances Parenthope
  • Florence Nightingale’s very first patient was a dog! She nursed Cap the sheepdog back to health after his leg was badly bruised, much to the thanks and appreciation of his owner, Roger.
  • Before Florence left for Turkey, she had a baby pet owl called Athena who she’d carry in her pocket.
  • The soldiers Florence nursed at the hospital in Scutari had a pet tortoise named Jimmy.
  • Florence didn’t like having her picture taken or painted, so there aren’t many photos or paintings of her around today.
  • The nursing school Florence set up is now called the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, and it is part of King's College London.
  • Florence is credited with inventing the pie chart!
  • Florence published books, reports and leaflets about hospital planning and organisation. Her most famous work was Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not.
  • American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem about Florence called Santa Filomena.
  • Florence mentored Linda Richards, who is the first professionally trained nurse in the United States of America.
  • 12 May, Florence's birthday, isn't only International Nurses Day; it is also International Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Awareness Day as some people think she may have had the disease herself.

Florence Nightingale gallery:

  • Florence Nightingale
  • Portrait of Florence as a young adult
  • Portrait of young Florence
  • Florence Nightingale around 1858
  • Picture of Florence later in life
  • Florence as an elderly woman (Credit: Wellcome Collection CC BY 4.0)
  • Florence’s childhood home, Embley Park in Hampshire



Florence grew up in Hampshire, and was educated by her father who taught her things most girls wouldn’t have learned at that time such as Latin, maths, philosophy and history.

Florence went against her family’s wishes when she announced her plans to become a nurse – they didn’t think it was a proper job for someone as wealthy and well-educated as Florence. It took Florence seven years of asking for her father’s permission to study nursing before he finally gave it to her. Florence studied nursing at the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserwerth, Germany.

Florence worked as a nurse in a hospital in Scutari, Turkey during the Crimean War, where she discovered that soldiers were dying because of lack of proper food and medicine, shortage of staff and dirty conditions. She got her famous nickname, ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, after a news article in The Times described her care and attention to the wounded soldiers in Scutari – she kept working even after everyone else had gone to sleep.

Florence told the British government how poor conditions were for soldiers in hospital, and they had famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel design a hospital that could be taken apart and shipped overseas.

Florence wrote more than 200 books, reports and pamphlets about how hospitals should be arranged and run, including Notes on Nursing: What it is and What it is Not, a book explaining basic nursing skills such as hygiene, nutrition and how to set up a sickroom; it was used to teach nurses at Florence’s nursing school.

Florence suffered from illnesses that often kept her in bed for nearly half of her life, and she became permanently blind in 1901.

Florence was very good at maths, and was the first woman to become a member of the Royal Statistical Society. She was also the first woman to be given the Order of Merit.

The Florence Nightingale Medal was established by the International Red Cross in 1912 – two years after Florence’s death – and seen as the highest honour a nurse or nursing aide can achieve.

Florence’s work reached far beyond the shores of England. She helped to improve medical care in India by working to establish a public health service.

Famous friends

Sidney Herbert (1810-1861), a British politician who sent Florence to work in Scutari, helped her lead the effort to improve army health, and helped her set up the Nightingale Fund to train other nurses.

Linda Richards (1841-1930), the first professionally trained nurse in America, who was mentored by Florence when visiting London for a seven-month training course; she founded nursing training schools across America, and helped launch Japan’s first training programme for nurses.

Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), the first woman to qualify as a doctor in America, who encouraged Florence to keep trying to convince her family that she should study nursing.

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