Before Flo got in the game, nurses had little or no medical training and sported a reputation as prostitutes and drunks. The Lady with the Lamp changed all that. Born in 1820 in Great Britain, Florence was a society girl more accustomed to salons and a silver spoon than trenches and scalpels. Well-traveled and afforded a classical education, Florence heard the call of God to a higher purpose soon after her coming-out ball at seventeen. Her family was shocked at her decision to pursue nursing— it was entirely too disreputable. Despite her parents’ objection, she visited hospitals whenever she could. On a family trip to Germany, her parents finally gave in to Florence’s pleas and allowed her to enroll in nurse’s training at the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses in 1851. Upon graduation, Florence set about reforming the nursing profession with many important innovations and practical improvements at the London hospital for “Sick Gentlewomen” where she worked.
Florence was called to serve her country during the Crimean War when many wounded British soldiers lay dying in despicable conditions in Turkey. Instead of being greeted with gratitude, however, Florence and her brigade of trained nurses were treated with scorn and were regarded as a threat by the army doctors.
Undeterred, Florence flew into action, organizing a field hospital that treated 12,000 soldiers and saved countless lives. Florence earned her reputation as an angel of mercy the hard way, working twenty hours at a time and falling ill to many of the scourges that swept through the camp, including a terrible fever that weakened her joints and
left her bald and emaciated. Florence Nightingale emerged as Britain’s “national hero” of the war and came home to pomp and circumstance, becoming the first woman
to receive the British Order of Merit in 1907. Florence had no time for honors and glory, however, preferring to continue her campaign for reform in medicine and public health until her death.