Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

MAY 12th  

On this day in history in 1820, was born Florence Nightingale.

Nightingale was the originator of the profession of nursing and was also a proficient mathematician.

Nightingale was named after her birthplace, Florence, Italy, where her parents were temporary residents. She grew up in Derbyshire, Hampshire and London where her well-to-do father maintained homes. Nightingale received an informal yet substantial education in the Classics, history and mathematics, in order to equip her for marriage to a society gentleman.  

But Nightingale was unsatisfied with this life. She felt that she had a calling from God and surprised her family by announcing that her mission was to nurse the sick. She entered the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses, an establishment for the instruction of poor but honest girls in the skills of nursing, and from there, graduated to The Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen.  

When the Crimean War broke out, the public were scandalised by reports of crowded and unsanitary conditions faced by wounded British troops in Turkey. Nightingale set off at once for Constantinople with a few close companions to assist her. She petitioned the Secretary of State for War to send more nurses, which he obliged did, and placed Nightingale in charge of the operation. At the hospital at Scutari, Nightingale found the place infested with vermin. Her first request was for 200 scrubbing brushes with which to wash the patients’ clothes. Nightingale had to contend not only with the conditions but apathy of army officers, contempt of doctors and insubordination of junior nurses many of whom had to be sent home for drunkenness or immorality. Nightingale was not so much an active nurse as an administrator and inspector. She became known as the ‘Lady of the Lamp’ due to her frequent tours of the hospital at night with the aid of a Greek lamp.  

After the end of the Crimean War, Nightingale took up the science of mathematics as an aid to her interest in epidemiology. She made extensive use of statistical analyses in the compilation and presentation of statistics as an aid to improve health care. Nightingale invented the ‘coxcomb’, a mathematical diagram, and equivalent to the modern circular histogram, to illustrate the causes of mortality. She used these techniques to construct a study of the sanitary conditions of India, despite the fact that she had not visited that country. In 1858, Nightingale was elected as the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society.  

When on her deathbed, Nightingale was offered the privilege of burial at Westminster Abbey, an offer that she refused. She was interred in an unfussy tomb [St. Margaret’s Churchyard, Whinwhistle Road, East Wellow, ROMSEY SO51 6BH] with the simple inscription ‘F N’.

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