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Founder of Modern Nursing (1860)

The 1856 media hype surrounding Nightingale was hardly surprising. She was the saving angel who had put an end to all the hardships. What Nightingale had really done during the Crimean War was actually not that spectacular. She only stayed there for a short time and had not succeeded in bringing down mortality, due to the unfortunate location of the hospital above an open sewer. The actual nursing, the manipulation of the ill, the feeding of the convalescent, the dressing of dirty wounds and the laying out of the dead soldiers was done by other nurses. Nightingale was primarily the manager, the organiser, the negotiator, a task for which she had been conditioned at the estate of her parents. Once back in 1856, that was the task she had in mind for herself: the organisation of the hospitals, of health care and of nursing. For Nightingale, Scutari was a station in her journey to a higher destination, the reorganisation of nursing as a means for the improvement of health care.

Handbooks in Nursing

A print of the handbook Notes on nursing
A print of the handbook Notes on Nursing. What it is, and What it is not. Credits: Florence Nightingale Institute, Culemborg, The Netherlands

After her return, Nightingale went to work energetically and laid the foundation of the nursing profession, for which she was awarded with the name of founder of modern nursing. For instance, between 1858 and 1859, she wrote the first modern handbook for nursing the sick: Notes on Nursing, What it is, and What it is Not . In this, she underpins her ideas about health care and devotes a striking amount of attention to the importance of hygienic conditions. Notes on Nursing was published in 1860 and immediately conquered the world.


A Bestseller for Common People

This bestseller was intended for the common man and sold 15,000 copies within two months. Many translations and re-editions followed. Anna Dorothée van der Tholl, the wife of the famous 19th-century Dutch literary critic Conrad Busken Huet, translated the book into Dutch. In the Netherlands, its success was limited, because physicians did not see the use of hospital care. Before Notes on Nursing, Nightingale wrote Notes on Hospitals, a collection of earlier composed notes on the construction and building of modern hospitals, illustrated with plans. Although less well-known than Notes on Nursing, both these books offer a complete picture of Nightingale’s ideas about the organisation of modern health care and the role nursing could play in it.