Friday, August 12

The Lady with the Lamp

Today The Episcopal Church and I remember nurse Florence Nightingale. Nursing roles and education were first defined by Nightingale, following her experiences caring for the wounded in the Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856). Prior to this, nursing was frequently done by women of little or no means (such as prostitutes) and thought to be a trade with few skills or standards. 

From Holy Women, Holy Men:

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820. She was trained as a nurse at Kaiserwerth (1851) and Paris and in 1853 became superintendent of a hospital for invalid women in London. In response to God’s call and animated by a spirit of service, in 1854 she volunteered for duty during the Crimean War and recruited 38 nurses to join her. With them she organized the first modern nursing service in the British field hospitals of Scutari and Balaclava. By imposing strict discipline and high standards of sanitation she radically reduced the drastic death toll and rampant infection then typical in field hospitals. She returned to England in 1856 and a fund of £50,000 was subscribed to enable her to form an institution for the training of nurses at St. Thomas’s Hospital and at King’s College Hospital. Her school at St. Thomas’s Hospital became significant in helping to elevate nursing into a profession. 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, 1859, went through many editions.

An Anglican, she remained committed to a personal mystical religion which sustained her through many years of poor health until her death in 1910. Until the end of her life, although her illness prevented her from leaving her home, she continued in frequent spiritual conversation with many prominent church leaders of the day, including the local parish priest who regularly brought Communion to her. By the time of her death on Aug. 13, 1910, her reputation as a healer and holy person had assumed mythical proportions, and she is honored throughout the world as the founder of the modern profession of nursing.

Collect of the Day

Life-giving God, you alone have power over life and death, over health and sickness: Give power, wisdom, and gentleness to those who follow the lead of Florence Nightingale, that they, bearing with them your presence, may not only heal but bless, and shine as lanterns of hope in the darkest hours of pain and fear; through Jesus Christ, the healer of body and soul, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. 

During the Crimean war, Nightingale gained the nickname "The Lady with the Lamp," deriving from a phrase in a report in The Times:
She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.
The phrase was further popularized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's 1857 poem "Santa Filomena":
Lo! in that house of misery
A lady with a lamp I see
Pass through the glimmering gloom,
And flit from room to room.
I am certain Nightingale and her Notes on Nursing had an effect upon Mary Mahoney (April 16, 1845 – Jan. 4, 1926) who was the first professionally trained African American nurse in the United States. Of the 42 students admitted to the New England Hospital for Women and Children nursing program, Mahoney was one of four who graduated on Aug. 1, 1879.

In 1908, she co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses which merged with the American Nurses Association in 1951.

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