Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy to English parents in 1820.
She trained as a nurse first at Kaiserworth in Germany, then in Paris, and in 1853 became superintendent of a hospital for invalid women in London. During the Crimean War she volunteered for duty and took 48 nurses to Scutari in 1854. She organized the barracks hospital after the battle of Inkerman and through discipline and sanitization attempted to lower the hospital mortality rate.
In fact, it is fairly certain that her efforts actually caused more deaths than they saved, due to the lack of understanding in the field of sanitization at the time.
It was not common practice to actively sterilize surgical equipment, bedding and wound dressings, and in the process of cleaning and re-using medical provisions caused infection to reach epidemic proportions. It is believed that the realization of this unfortunate consequence caused Nightingale terrible distress later in life, and the traumatic guilt she experienced inspired her vow to see that such a catastrophe would not happen again.
She returned to England in 1856 to be hailed a heroine (a tribute she did not embrace comfortably), and found she had the ear of Queen Victoria. Through campaigning and careful use of her new found contacts, a fund of £50,000 was subscribed to enable her to form an institution for the training of nurses at St Thomas’s and at King’s College Hospital.
She devoted many years to the question of army sanitary reform, to the improvement of nursing and to public health in India. Her main work, ‘Notes on Nursing’ went through many editions. She died in London in 1910, and even before her death was regarded as the “Mother of modern nursing”.