illustration showing Florence Nightingale holding a lamp, alongside a bed where a patient lies

Nursing pioneer Florence Nightingale

The amazing life and work of Florence Nightingale - the mother of modern nursing

Jolan Wuyts (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Known as 'the lady of the lamp', Florence Nightingale is celebrated as a founder of modern nursing. She used statistics and data visualisation to improve the field of medicine, and was a strong and empathic woman fighting for social reform. 

This blog highlights some of the striking objects in Europeana related to Florence Nightingale's life and work.

two pairs of beige moccasin shoes, with mostly red bead design

Early life and travels

Nightingale was born into an upper-class Victorian British family. She enjoyed a privileged upbringing, influenced by the extensive social sphere of her family that led to her adopting a liberal-humanitarian and feminist world view.

She travelled extensively throughout Europe and North Africa during her youth. 

painting of a group of people standing in front of a building on a street

Even though her family was opposed to her drive to educate herself and become a nurse, Nightingale went her own way by continuing her travels, becoming a political advisor and receiving medical training in Germany. 

The Crimean War

She is perhaps best known for her role in the aid of the wounded and sick in the Crimean War. 

In 1854, Nightingale left for Crimea together with other volunteer nurses and medical staff. Florence arrived at a military barracks in Scutari, where she found patients in horrible conditions caused by lack of resources and hygiene.

There, she began to implement measures to improve the hygiene in the barracks and reduce mass infections.

illustration showing Florence Nightingale holding a lamp in a busy hospital ward

Nightingale wrote to The Times in England to ask for financial aid in the improvement of conditions for patients, and called on the Sanitary Commission to provide sewage systems and other improvements to sanitation.

illustration of a group of people, some wounded, arriving through a doorway being greeted by other people

Florence Nightingale's work in the Crimean War received extensive coverage in the British press, which aided her efforts and made her a well-known figure.

An article in The Times described her in passing as 'the lady with the lamp', referring to how she made the rounds at night holding an oil lamp to check on the sick and wounded.

monochrome illustration, Florence Nightingale standing and holding a lamp while a man sits alongside her
colour photograph of a brass oil lamp

For her work and dedication during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale received a brooch from Queen Victoria, referred to as the 'Florence Nightingale Jewel'.

Nightingale and Queen Victoria maintained written correspondence during the Crimean War, convincing the Queen to reform the military hospital system in 1857.

After her work in Scutari, she continued fighting for hospital reform and social justice back in the United Kingdom. 

colour illustration of a medal, a central badge with words 'Blessed are the merciful' surrounded by leaves and topped with three stars, the word Crimea is on a ribbon below

Writing and social reform

In 1855, a  fund was established to found the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas' Hospital in London - the first school for nursing to be founded worldwide. Nurses that trained there went on to start their own schools for nursing around the United Kingdom and Europe.

a certificate with an illustration of Florence Nightingale holding a lamp and giving a glass of water to a patient in a bed

Florence Nightingale wrote several books and treatises on nursing and medical science. Her most influential writing is Notes on Nursing, a practical guide to ensure hygiene and health and safety standards in hospitals and by nursing staff.

It is often seen as the foundation of the modern nursing profession. 

photograph of two books, one closed and one open to the contents page

Throughout her life, Nightingale wrote about 200 books, pamphlets and articles.

From 1857 onwards, she became increasingly bed-bound, but was still extremely productive in her writing efforts, furthering the fields of medical care and increasingly focusing on social reform and feminism. Most of Nightingale's written work was created in her house in Embley Park.

illustration of a large home surrounded by trees
black and white photograph of an older Florence Nightingale sitting up in bed

Legacy and remembrance

Championed as the founder of modern nursing, at the forefront of the fight for free universal access to healthcare, and an inspiration to the women's right's movement, today several hospitals are named after Nightingale and multiple statues have been erected in her honour.

Her likeness and legacy has appeared on coins, banknotes and postage stamps. 

Großbritannien: 2010 Florence Nightingale. Münzkabinett, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Germany, CC BY-NC-SA.

dark red postage stamp with a portrait of Florence Nightingale

Since 1965, International Nurses Day has been celebrated annually on 12 May, Florence Nightingale's birthday.

Several theatre plays, books, documentaries, TV series and films have been created about her work and life.

poster showing a collage image of Florence Nightingale, made up of a mosaic of other portraits

2020 was the bicentenary of Florence Nightingale's birth. A series of events and exhibitions across Europe were planned to celebrate her legacy. The WHO declared 2020 as the year of the Nurse and Midwife.