#OnThisDay in 1820, Florence Nightingale was born. In 1904, in recognition of a lifetime dedicated to the care of the sick, Florence Nightingale was invested into the Order of St John as a Dame of Grace, and in the Museum's collections at St John's Gate we have some fascinating objects that illustrate the Order's Florence Nightingale connection.
From 1853 to 1856, the Crimean War saw the allied forces of the Ottoman Empire, France, Britain and Sardinia unite against the Russian Empire. Florence Nightingale is forever linked to the conflict, and her pioneering role in the provision of care for battlefield casualties transformed medical practice and had a profound impact on the treatment of the sick and injured.
Florence’s wealthy upper-middle class background should have dictated an existence of privilege, with the possible addition of the gentlest of charitable work. However, her conviction to a greater social purpose compelled Florence to pursue a professional path rather than the expected route of wife and mother. Florence’s interest in nursing was met with little enthusiasm from her family, although the financial cushion afforded her by her father provided her with the independence to pursue her nursing ambitions.
On 21st October 1854, Florence left Britain for the Crimea, with 38 trained volunteer women nurses. On reaching the field hospitals, Florence discovered chaotic medical practices and indifferent hygiene, leading to inevitable disease, infection and death. By campaigning for better resources, implementing professional practices, and enforcing such simple processes as repeated hand washing, Florence’s interventions caused the mortality rate of war casualties to plummet. Her formative experiences in the Crimea had a major influence on her campaigning work, and she became a great advocate for the improvement of sanitary conditions, both in hospitals and in the home.
On returning to Britain, Florence was to put her experience to further practical effect in establishing the Nightingale Training School, at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, creating a training course that would give professional stature to this vital nursing role. Florence continued to use her position of influence within the British establishment to force sweeping changes in the provision of nursing care, improving dramatically the medical provision for all and particularly for the most vulnerable.
In recognition of the profound human sacrifice of the Crimean forces, a monument was unveiled in Waterloo Place, London, in 1861, cast in bronze from the cannons captured at the Siege of Sevastopol. In 1914, the monument was enhanced further with two more sculptural additions – Secretary of War Sidney Herbert and Florence Nightingale. This model shown here is a replica cast, taken from the monumental sculpture by Arthur George Walker (1861–1939).
At the age of eighty-four, Florence Nightingale was invested into the Order of St John as a Dame of Grace. Her contribution to medical care and social reform embody the humanitarian values at the heart of St John, and her pioneering spirit perfectly aligns with the advances of the Victorian age in which the Venerable Order was founded. To this day a commemorative plaque is mounted in the Council Chamber of St John’s Gate, honouring her membership and her iconic place in the history of medicine. TF