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I am Nannie Wiegman, director of the Florence Nightingale Institute. We are an online knowledge centre and platform for the history of Dutch nursing. We are also a certified museum. Recently, this enabled us to add a special object to our collection: A letter by Florence Nightingale. She wrote this letter in 1898. In it, she worries about the health of the mother of a friend. This letter gives me goose bumps. Florence Nightingale’s past is very palpable when I hold it. How can it be that, after 200 years, an object related to her can still give you goose bumps.
Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp. Who does not know her? She was born 200 years ago and in 1854, she became famous in the Crimean War. And she is still as popular as you can imagine. Nightingale came from a distinguished British family. A career in nursing was never in the books for her. Far below her class! She was meant to get married, to make an advantageous match and to enjoy a regular family life. That was not her idea at all. Long before she left for Crimea, she busied herself collecting data on health care and mortality, in hospitals but above all in the army. Florence Nightingale became a famous statistician. In her own time, she was famous for her scientific ideas and for her collection of data which she converted into colourful diagrams. These showed how bad health care was in the British army and elsewhere. She was a consummate statistician. In 1854, when Florence Nightingale travelled to Crimea she could combine practical skills with her scientific knowledge. In this way, she could raise nursing and health care to a higher level. Nightingale wanted to turn nursing into a proper profession an occupation through which you could also earn a living. This differed from the Sisters of Charity. These religious sisters were nursing out of a calling, without pay. Nightingale began her efforts by writing a booklet. This booklet, Notes on Nursing, What It Is, and What It Is Not became a huge success. Not only in England, but all over, it was the first nursing textbook. Only in the Netherlands it was not accepted. Over there, the doctors did not think much of this Florence Nightingale. Who did this Miss think she was, to lecture them about nursing?
In 1860, the great moment arrived. The first training school for nurses opened at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London. Florence financed the school herself. She was closely involved, up to her dying day. The school was based on two principles. One, nursing is a discipline. You have to learn it, to be trained. It differs from medical training. And, nursing is an art which you master in practice. A principle of the training was for the nurses to obey the doctor certainly, but always with intelligent obedience. They should ask questions, they should have an opinion. The model of the Nightingale School became very popular. It was not only used in England and its Empire but all over the world. But not in the Netherlands. The physicians there thought training should be done in-service at the hospital, and not at a separate training school. Hence, nurses over the whole world were trained in different systems. Mostly in the Nightingale system, less often in the in-service system.
Ask any bus driver: who is Florence Nightingale? You will probably get the answer: something to do with nursing? Something to do with a lamp? When bus drivers know who you are, you must be an icon. And Florence Nightingale was an icon in the field of nursing. She combined scientific knowledge and practical experience for professional nursing. We are indebted to her for that. And that is the reason why, as a nurse, you gets goose bumps from a letter by her. Nightingale is an icon of nursing, then, now, and for future nurses. We should be grateful to her.