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Later Victorian Portraits Catalogue

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910), Reformer of hospital nursing and of the Army Medical Services

Reformer of Army medical services and of nursing organization; born 12 May 1820, in Florence, Italy. Educated by her father in England; paid formative visits to Institution of Deaconesses, Kaiserswerth am Rhein, 1850 and 1851; first administrative post, at Establishment for Gentlewomen during illness in London (1853–4), cut short by an invitation from Sidney Herbert to take nurses to Crimea, and to ‘organize and superintend’ the hospitals at Scutari, where she arrived 4 November 1854 and remained until 28 July 1856, visiting the war zones (1855, 1856) and succumbing to bouts of ‘Crimean fever’ (brucellosis); back in England, after an encouraging meeting with Queen Victoria, began lobbying and writing reports for Army medical service reform; moved to the Burlington Hotel, London 1856, shunning her family; fell ill (‘the collapse of August 1857 was the beginning of Miss Nightingale’s retirement as an invalid’) [1] though continued to fight her causes; fellow of the Royal Statistical Society 1859; published the best-seller Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not, and suffered recurrence of the Crimean brucellosis, 1860; much involved in the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses, St Thomas’ Hospital, London (opened 1860); also advised widely on hospital design and army sanitation; moved to 10 South Street, Park Lane 1865, which her father bought for her and where she lived for the next 45 years; turned her attention to health and sanitation in rural India 1860s–1890s, producing important publications, while from the 1880s her own health improved; OM 1907, the first woman to be so honoured; died in her sleep 13 August 1910 at South Street, and (the offer of a Westminster Abbey burial declined by relatives) buried next to her parents at East Wellow, Hampshire.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s impression of Nightingale in 1854, just weeks before departure for Crimea:

She is tall; very slight and willowy in figure; thick, shortish, rich brown hair; very delicate complexion; grey eyes, which are generally pensive and drooping, but which when they choose can be the merriest eyes I ever saw; and perfect teeth, making her smile the sweetest I ever saw. … Dress her up in black silk high up to the long white round throat, and with a black shawl on – and you may get near an idea of her perfect grace and lovely appearance. [2]

Queen Victoria’s impression in 1856, soon after her return:

I had expected a rather cold, stiff, reserved person, instead of which, she is gentle, pleasing & engaging, most ladylike, & so clever, clear & comprehensive in her views of everything. Her mind is solely & entirely taken up with the one object, to which she has sacrificed her health, & devoted herself like a saint. But she is entirely free of absurd enthusiasm, without a grain of ‘exaltation’, which so often leads to over strained religious views, – truly simple, quite pious in her action, & her views, yet without the slightest display of religion or a particle of humbug. … She is tall, & slight, with fine dark eyes, & must have been very pretty, but now she looks very thin & care worn. [3]

From Harriet Martineau’s obituary of Nightingale:

Though dozens of portraits were put forth as hers during the Crimean War which were spurious, or were wholly unlike, her general appearance was well known – the tall, slender figure, the intelligent, agreeable countenance, and the remarkable mixture of reserve and simplicity in her expression and manner … She was the most quiet and natural of all ladylike women; presenting no points for special observation, but good sense and cultivation as to mind, and correctness in demeanour and manners. [4]

Carol Blackett-Ord

Footnotesback to top

1) Woodham-Smith 1950, p.302.
2) Letter from E. Gaskell to C. Winkworth, 20 Oct. 1854, quoted in O’Malley 1931, p.208.
3) Queen Victoria’s Journals, vol. 42, p.152, RA VIC/MAIN/QVJ (W) 21 Sep. 1856 (Princess Beatrice’s copies).
4) H. Martineau, ‘Death of Miss Nightingale’, Daily News, 15 Aug. 1910. Martineau wrote the obituary in 1857, when Nightingale was ill and believed to be dying.

Referencesback to top

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McDonald. L., ed., The Collected Works of Florence Nightingale, Vol.1: Florence Nightingale – An Introduction to Her Life and Family Waterloo, ON, 2001.

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Wintle, C.J., The Story of Florence Nightingale; The Heroine of the Crimea, 11th ed., London, c.1911.

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