Florence Nightingale, Part 1

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth. In honor of this, the World Health Organization is designating 2020,  The International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. Here is an article that provides a timeline about Nightingale and here is one about nursing in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.

When I decided to go back to school and become a nurse, at first, I thought I would be a midwife. My children were very young so their births were fresh in my mind. Once in school, I changed my mind and wanted to work in either intensive care or the emergency room. My actual nursing career has included a variety of sites and experiences.

For one of my nursing classes, I wrote a paper about Nightingale and how  modern (1994) nursing theorists use her ideas. In 1995, it won the University of Massachusetts, Ruth A. Smith Writing Award,  School of Nursing .

The paper is from 1994 and is long, so in honor of Nightingale’s birthday and nurses, who are true heros whether there is a pandemic or not, I will post the paper, with some revisions,  in three parts.

Part One:

Amy Mittelman ©2020, Professional Nursing I,                                                      Fall 1994


Florence Nightingale is widely acknowledged to be the founder of nursing as a secular profession in the western world. Although the Russians, the other protagonist in the Crimean War, also produced nurses, they did not have a central leader such as Florence Nightingale.[1] Most scholars consider Notes On Nursing published after she returned from the Crimea, to be Nightingale’s theory of nursing. However, Nightingale herself stated that was not her intention. Her subject was “sanitary nursing” and not the “handicraft of nursing”[2] Nursing was only one of Nightingale’s many interests and her primary concern in the years immediately following Scutari was sanitary reform of the British Army.[3] It is in this light that we must view Notes On Nursing.

Nightingale was a Christian – a life-long member of the Church of England – and this shaped her world view. Her work and the work of all people was the work of God. “God lays down certain physical laws.  Upon his carrying out such laws depends our responsibility (that much abused word) for how could we have any actions, the results of which we could not foresee – which would be the case if the carrying out of his laws were not certain. Yet we seem to be continually expecting that He will work a miracle – i.e. break His own laws expressly to relieve us of responsibility”[4]

Jacqueline Fawcett states that humanism is “the dominant collective philosophy”[5] of nursing yet Nightingale’s Christianity is outside of that philosophy. The three world views that Fawcett ascribes to nursing – reaction, reciprocal interaction, and simultaneous action – also do not capture Nightingale’s beliefs. Christianity itself is a world view or perhaps several world views. Nightingale believed that nature had “very definite rules” that nurses had to ascertain.[6] Although there was a God-given structure within which people had to operate, it was their responsibility to respond in creative and appropriate ways. Spiritual motivation infused much of Victorian reform.[7]

[1] Benson, Evelyn R. 1992 On the other side of the battle: Russian nurses in the Crimean War. Image 24 (Spring): 65-68.

[2] Nightingale, Florence. 1860. Notes on nursing. New York: D. Appleton and Company, p. 127.

[3] Vicinus, Martha, and Bea Nergaard. 1990. Ever yours, Florence Nightingale. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

[4] Nightingale, p.25

[5] Fawcett, Jacqueline. 1995. Analysis and evaluation of conceptual models of nursing. Philadelphia: F.A. Davis Company, p.15.

[6] Nightingale, p. 74.

[7] Summers, Anne. 1989. Ministering angels. History Today 39 (Feb.): 31-38.