She was Named for the city of her birth
Born to William Edward and Frances Nightingale in 1920, Florence, and her older sister were both named after the cities of their birth. While on an extended honeymoon that lasted a few years, the couple gave birth to Frances Parthenope while they toured Parthenope, Italy, a Greek settlement which is now part of Naples, Italy. Shortly thereafter, they welcomed their second daughter into the world, whom we know now as the mother of modern nursing, Florence, while in Florence, Italy.
She came from inherited wealth
Florence’s father came into the world as William Edward Shore. In 1815, upon his great-uncle’s death, he inherited the family estate and changed his name to Nightingale. The family split their time between two grand homes in Embley, Hampshire and Lea Hurst, Derbyshire. They also spent the social season in London. As most wealthy girls in Victorian England, Florence was expected to marry a man of equal or greater wealth, live a luxurious life, produce children, and run the household. Florence knew early on her destiny lay elsewhere.
She was highly educated
Precocious as a child, Florence excelled in mathematics and languages. At a young age, she became fluent in French, German, Italian, Greek and Latin. Not only could she speak the languages, she could also read and write in these languages. Florence’s father took delight in his daughter’s intellect and encourage her education. He supported her in all of her studies including history, philosophy, and literature.
She felt “called” to her profession
As a young girl, Florence felt called by God to help people. She often took care of the sick and injured wherever the family lived.
Like many wealthy, educated, upper-class young adults, Florence embarked on several tours to finish out her education. While on these tours, she wrote about her experiences. She traveled to Greece and Egypt where she wrote of “spiritual grandeur,” and of being called to “do good for him [God] alone and without reputation.”
She became a published writer at 30 years of age
In 1950 she traveled to Germany where she visited a Lutheran community. The trip proved life-changing for her. She witnessed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and his assistant deaconesses serving the sick and deprived. In 1851 she wrote The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine for the Practical Training of Deaconesses and published it anonymously.
Her most famous literary contribution is her Notes on Nursing, What It Is and What It Is Not. It has been in continuous publication worldwide since 1859.
She rejected an exemplary marriage proposal after a 9-year courtship
As a wealthy, attractive, and charming young woman, Florence had the makings of a beneficial wife. She had several suitors, but the most ardent of them was Richard Monckton Milnes who pursued her for nine years. While she might have had mutual feelings for the politician who also had a romantic side and was an accomplished poet, Florence rejected him. She felt marriage and childbearing would interfere with her calling to nursing.
She knew influential people and was well connected
While traveling in Rome, Florence met Sidney Herbert, the former Secretary of War for the British government, while on his honeymoon. Nightingale, Herbert, and his wife became lifelong friends. Her friendship with Herbert would change her life and put her in the history books. She would later serve as his key advisor throughout the rest of his political career. She also became friendly with the influential theologian Benjamin Jowett who was Master of Balliol College at Oxford University
She Said Yes to Her Calling
Although Florence’s family had reservations about her calling to nursing, they eventually accepted it. Florence enrolled at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany. There she learned hospital administration and basic nursing skills. Later she became the superintendent of the Institution for Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Services in London. There she honed her skills as an administrator. She realized she had a talent for organization and leadership and intended to apply for the superintendent of nurses position at King’s College Hospital in London. Instead, she received another call. (Continued next week!)