Florence Nightingale has always been known as the lady of the lamp. For the Victorians, it was a nice, safe, soothing image of a woman soothing a fevered brow, just as she was supposed to do at home.
But Florence Nightingale was so much more. First of all, the conditions in her hospital in Scutari in the Crimea were as horrific as any on the edge of battle. Finding a dead horse in the drinking water was the least stomach-churning of what went on. The story of her time there is as nail-biting as any thriller.This time in the Crimea lasted only two years, and Florence’s real legacy came from the remaining years of her long life, as she strove to understand why so many of the soldiers in her care died, despite of the skills and dedication of herself and her nurses.
She set up training hospitals that began the rigorous training nurses have today, and turned nursing from a by-word for prostitution to a respected profession, and a respectable career for women at a time when there were very few options for middle class women who didn’t have a father or husband to support them financially.
Her greatest legacy, however, was her campaigning. Her time at Scutari had left her frequently ill, but although she wasn’t a known frequenter of the tearooms she supported many of the suffrage ladies’ campaigns. At the same time, she was determined to improve medicine, and for that she used the new discipline of statistics. She taught herself to become a brilliant mathematician and statistician, one who could take the raw data collected about the number of men who died, and where and why, and analyse it to really understand what was killing them – finally being the first to identify that it was poor hygiene, caused by bad sanitation, that led to the overwhelming number of deaths among the sick and injured. She understood her own mistakes, and made a scientific, factually-based argument that would change medicine forever. One of her greatest contribution was that of the use of charts, which made the facts absolutely clear in a way that lists of numbers could not. Her innovative creation of one particular chart made her argument clear to Queen Victoria, and is still in use today.
So all hail Florence Nightingale, pioneering statistician at a time when women were not considered capable of attending university. A queen of the statistics who battled conventional wisdom, and changed the world.
You can find out more about her story HERE
And more about her genius as a campaigner and statistician HERE