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Florence Nightingale’s letters

Image of letter to Sidney Herbert from Florence Nightingale

Letter to Sidney Herbert from Florence Nightingale
British Library Add. MS 43393, ff.164v-165
Copyright © The British Library Board
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Florence Nightingale is known as one of the leading figures in British nursing. Her achievements during the Crimean War, and the nursing systems she set up, paved the way for the beginning of modern nursing.

Here is an extract from her correspondence from Scutari. On 4 November 1854 Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) arrived at Scutari, the former Turkish military barracks which served as a hospital for British troops from the Crimean peninsula. Conditions were already appalling and worsened rapidly as wounded and diseased men poured in in numbers far beyond the capacity of the ill-equipped buildings.

From the beginning Nightingale recognised that her task was not simply to tend the individual needs of the first wounded soldiers she encountered; rather, to make any real impact, she had to surmount the shortcomings of the antiquated, bureaucratic structure of the army's medical services and, perhaps most important of all, to establish that a female nursing group could make a valuable contribution which authorities and medical men alike could respect. Consequently she spent much of her time in patient argument with intransigent officials, as well as in gruelling physical tasks.

Some wondered if she slept at all, for she also found time to write detailed accounts of her work (and of the difficulties she faced) to Herbert, who was the Secretary at War in the government and her principal supporter in London. These letters deal with her opinions on the status of female nurses and the difficulties she encountered in balancing the claims of various religious groups who wished to send out parties of women volunteers.

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