Florence Nightingale Comes Home for 2020
This content is adapted from the Florence Nightingale Derbyshire Association’s Exhibition (2010)

The material in this section is not the result of research by the current project team, but rather is adapted from the Florence Nightingale Derbyshire Association’s 2010 Exhibition, which marked the 100th anniversary of the death of Nightingale and was displayed throughout August 2010 at the Gothic Warehouse, Cromford Wharf, part of the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site. An associated programme of music, dance, film and walking events were held throughout Derbyshire.

We would like to thank the Florence Nightingale Derbyshire Association for permission to reproduce these materials.


Health and Hospitals

...the very first requirement in a hopsital is that it should do the sick no harm.  


      - Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale's greatest achievement was to make nursing respectable. For the first time responsible, educated women could join an organised and valued profession. 

The first Florence Nightingale School of Nursing was opened in 1860. Today is it one of the largest university departments of King's College London.

From 1865, nurses trained at the Nightingale School became matrons in hospitals all over Britain. They led the reform of nursing in hospitals, workhouses and in the armed forces.

In 1877, Florence Nightingale taught the American nurse Linda Richards, who went on to establish nurse training schools across the United States and Japan.


Nightingale and Sir Harry Verney posing at the centre of a group of 16 nurses outside Claydon House.
'F. Nightingale and Sir H. Verney with group of nurses at Claydon House', photograph, n.d. Wellcome Collection, Creative Commons licence CC BY 4.0.



A New Approach to Nursing and Hospitals

Perceptions of Nursing

The common perception of nurses had been defined by Charles Dickens, in his novel Martin Chuzzlewit (1843-44). The character Sairey Gamp is an old midwife and layer-out of the dead.

She's drunk and feckless, selfish and lazy; and deceitful - in one scene she takes the pillow from under a patient's head and puts it on her own easy chair, so she can get more comfortable!

Today her name is still shorthand for the opposite of good nursing.

Common-sense approach

Florence Nightingale's common-sense approach is summed up by her most important book: Notes on Nursing: What it is and What it is Not. It contained sections on cleanliness, including personal cleanliness; food, heat and light; nose, ventilation and other environmental factors; and variety:

"the sick suffer from seeing the same walls, the same ceiling, the same surroundings during a long confinement...subjected to a long monotony of objects about them."

As late as 1974, the Head of the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing was confident to write: "the book astonishes one with its relevance to modern attitudes and skills in nursing, whether at home, in hospital or in the community." 

illustration from 'Martin Chuzzlewit' by Charles Dickens of Sairey Gamp and Betsey Prig, the caricatured figures of drunk and uncaring nurses.

'Sairey Gamp and Betsey Prig', by Sol Eytinge Jr., 1867, illustration for Charles Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit. Image scan by Philip V. Allingham, formatting by George P. Landow.

Read more on 'Notes on Nursing'...

Notes on Nursing also contained a section on what Florence called 'chattering hopes and advices' - in other words the forced optimism and false cheer of freinds (as opposed to the objective observation of symptoms).

She wrote:

'I really believe that there is scarcely a greater worry that invalids have to endure than the incurable hopes of their friends...Leave off attempting to cheer the sick by making light of their danger, and exaggerating the probabilities of recovery'.

She advised against 'the folly of the friend who thinks his opinion will weigh with the patient - against the opinion of the medical attendant, (with) years of experience...the stethoscope, the examination of the pulse, the tongue etc.'

First published in 1859, Notes on Nursing is still in print today. 


School of Nursing

Florence Nightingale set down on paper how her School of Nursing was to be run. There would be regular teaching on the wards. There would be regular lectures given by the doctors. Trainee nurses were given reading lists and were expected to keep a learning journal. And there would be written exams.

But in the early years this didn't always happen. The workload on the wards meant that nurses were busy, and matrons had little time for formal teaching. Doctors, too, led by the underachieving Dr Whitfield, were often too busy, and their lectures were not being delivered.  

From 1872, Florence Nightingale established the post of Home Sister, responsible for education and training, and separated these duties from those of the Matron, whose role it was to run the wards.

Florence disagreed with the ideas and methods of Dr Whitfield, and a year later she replaced him with Dr Croft, a surgeon from St Thomas' Hospital in London. Standards in nurse training swiftly improved.

 Black and white photograph of St Thomas's Hospital as it looked in 1860. A large central courtyard is prominent.

St Thomas' Hospital as it looked in 1860, the year it became the site of the Nightingale School, the first secular nursing training school in the UK. Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons licence CC-BY-4.0


Notes on Hospitals

Florence also wrote the influential Notes on Hospitals, also published in 1859.  

She criticised existing hospital buildings, with their long corridors ("effective conduits for the spread of infections") and large wards ("they keep nurses at some distance from those in their care"). She suggested the use of smaller, separate units, or 'pavilions' as she had seen in France. 

She also suggested ways to improve ventilation in wards. She suspected that many diseases were airborne, and to deprive the sick of clean air was nothing short of "manslaughter disguised as benevolence".

To improve hygiene, she advised the use of metal beds instead of wooden ones, and glass cups instead of tin. "It is always cheaper," she wrote, "to build a good hospital than a bad one." 

'A design for convalescent hospital arranged as cottages'. Plan diagram showing Nightingale's proposed layout of a convalescent home. The plan shows convalescent bedrooms at either end of the building with sick wards in the centre and a dining room and kitchen set apart from the rest of the building.
'Plan No. X' in Florence Nightingale, Notes on Hospitals, 1859. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0)



Florence Nightingale Comes Home for 2020
Email: nightingale2020@nottingham.ac.uk