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“Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better.” Thus are a few of the most gut-wrenching and enlightening words of perhaps the most influential nurse of all time, Florence Nightingale. She was a pioneer for women everywhere, because nurses at the time were neither female or trained, and she broke through the barriers of both.
Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 in Italy to politically liberal parents who believed in female education and abolition. Her father was a wealthy British landowner, which enabled her to go and visit London hospitals. At the time, nursing was an occupation that required little more than simply giving medicine to the sick, and it was a profession that was more or less left to the lower and working classes. In her travels, however, Florence noticed the health practices of the nuns, which inspired her to become a nurse.
She began studying in 1851, and within two years she was given the position of superintendent for the Hospital for Invalid Gentlewomen in London. Interestingly enough, she had turned down a proposal from a high-class gentleman in order to achieve this dream. That proves that back then, just as much as today, women can accomplish things perfectly fine without a man.
The same year, the Crimean War broke out. Hundreds of British soldiers were dying, but not from battle. They were dying from diseases they contracted in the hospitals. Florence Nightingale was recruited by the secretary of war to go work in the hospitals that the soldiers were being brought to, the most famous of which was named Scutari. Unfortunately, there was still a lot of prejudice against Nightingale working in the hospitals, and the doctors in the hospitals took it as a personal insult that she criticized their working conditions. Nightingale sent word back to London and got monetary support for her aims, and the death rate in the hospital fell from 40% to 2%. The patients called her “Lady of the Lamp” because she alone was allowed in the patient ward at night.
While she had worked in the hospitals, she had kept records and charts, graphs and plots, of any kind of statistic she could get her hands on. She used these later to campaign for the improvement of hospital conditions in front of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, which led to the creation of an army medical college in 1859.
Our world has had the opportunity to make enormous leaps and bounds in all sorts of ways: in technology, in communication, in the medical field, in transportation, in science. Yet as Florence Nightingale so aptly puts, the only way any of that was possible is because people saw a need that must be filled, and they filled it. While revolutionizing nursing and sanitary practices in hospitals was an absolutely vital need, war continued to kill more and more men. With greater progression in keeping soldiers alive came a greater progression in killing methods. Industrialism looks different everywhere, but in terms of war it meant that simply to keep up with the times it was absolutely necessary for someone like Florence Nightingale to come along. If she had not, many more lives would have been lost and someone would have come along at some point to improve the hospital conditions.
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