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Florence Nightingale was a legend in her lifetime but the Crimean War years which made her famous were just two out of a life of ninety years.
Florence Nightingale was born in Italy on 12 May 1820 and was named Florence after the city where she was born. Her parents, William Edward and Frances Nightingale were a wealthy couple, who had toured Europe for two years on their honeymoon. During their travels their first daughter, Parthenope, was born in Naples (Parthenope being the Greek name for the ancient city), followed one year later by Florence. On returning to England the Nightingales divided their time between two homes. In the summer months they lived at Lea Hurst in Derbyshire, moving to Embley in Hampshire for the winter. Lea Hurst is now a retirement home and Embley is now a school.
Call From God
Florence and Parthenope were taught at home by their Cambridge University educated father. Florence was an academic child, while her sister excelled at painting and needlework. Florence grew up to be a lively and attractive young woman, admired in the family's social circle and she was expected to make a good marriage, but Florence had other concerns. In 1837, whilst in the gardens at Embley, Florence had what she described as her 'calling'. Florence heard the voice of God calling her to do his work, but at this time she had no idea what that work would be.
The years of struggle and the visit to Kaiserswerth
Florence developed an interest in the social questions of the day, made visits to the homes of the sick in the local villages and began to investigate hospitals and nursing. Her parents refused to allow her to become a nurse as in the mid-nineteenth century it was not considered a suitable profession for a well educated woman. While the family conflicts over Florence's future remained unresolved it was decided that Florence would tour Europe with some family friends, Charles and Selina Bracebridge. The three travelled to Italy, Egypt and Greece, returning in July 1850 through Germany where they visited Pastor Theodor Fliedner's hospital and school for deaconesses at Kaiserswerth, near Dusseldorf. The following year Florence Nightingale returned to Kaiserswerth and undertook three months nursing training, which enabled her to take a vacancy as Superintendent of the Establishment for Gentlewomen during illness at No. 1 Harley Street, London in 1853.
The Crimean War
In March 1854 Britain, France and Turkey declared war on Russia. The allies defeated the Russians at the battle of the Alma in September but reports in The Times criticised the British medical facilities for the wounded. In response, Sidney Herbert, the Minister at War, who knew Florence Nightingale socially and through her work at Harley Street, appointed her to oversee the introduction of female nurses into the military hospitals in Turkey. On 4 November 1854, Florence Nightingale arrived at the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, a suburb on the Asian side of Constantinople, with the party of 38 nurses. Initially the doctors did not want the nurses there and did not ask for their help, but within ten days fresh casualties arrived from the battle of Inkermann and the nurses were fully stretched.
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