Florence Nightingale

A black and white photographic portrait of Florence Nightingale, wearing her characteristically distinctive lace bonnet and dress, by Henry Hering  (late 1856-1857), copied by Elliott & Fry half-plate glass copy negative from the National Portrait Gallery
Florence Nightingale, by Henry Hering, copied by Elliott & Fry, half-plate glass copy negative, 1950s (late 1856-1857), NPG x82368, © National Portrait Gallery, London

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a social reformer, statistician, and one of the founders of modern nursing. The British Library holds most of Florence Nightingale's extensive personal archive as well as many other collections of letters and papers relating to her life and career.

About the collection

The Library holds an enormous amount of material by and relating to Nightingale. This guide provides a summary of the various collections.

Personal papers

Nightingale’s personal papers were deposited at the Library in three separate groups:

  • Group 1 (Add MS 43393-43403) contains correspondence and papers relating to Nightingale’s work during the Crimean war, including nursing reports, accounts and administrative papers, and correspondence with Sidney and Elizabeth Herbert, William Farr, and government and military officials
  • Group 2 (Add MS 45750-45849) contains extensive correspondence with the Royal Family, politicians, social reformers and medical professionals, as well as Nightingale’s literary papers, diaries and household books. In addition to nursing reform, this material documents Nightingale’s work on army and civilian sanitation in India, and her philosophical and religious writing. The family correspondence and diaries provide important detail on Nightingale’s upbringing and family relationships
  • Group 3 (Add MS 47714-47767) relates chiefly to the administration of the Nightingale Fund and the foundation of the Training School for Nurses in St Thomas’ Hospital. This section mainly contains correspondence, but also includes Nightingale’s essays on nursing, notes on her interviews with physicians and nursing staff, and papers relating to the Royal British Nursing Association

Papers of Nightingale’s family and correspondents

We hold several small collections relating to Nightingale’s family and correspondents, including Frederick William Verney MP, Rosalind and William Shore Smith, William Rathbone MP, John Hall (Inspector General of Hospitals and Principal Medical Officer in the Crimea), and Thomas Balfour (the Surgeon-General), as well as papers relating to biographies of Nightingale.

Collections within the India Office Private Papers

A number of small collections of Nightingale letters are found within the Private Papers, mainly concerning her work on Indian Sanitary Reform, including material in the Charlotte Canning papers.

An ocean of letters

It would be impossible to detail all of the Nightingale material held by the Library in this one guide. Letters written by Nightingale can also be found scattered throughout the modern archives collection, in the papers of politicians, academics, medical professionals, and campaigners. Use Explore Archives and Manuscripts to find these materials.

Wider works

The Library’s print and electronic collections contain biographies, history books and websites concerning Nightingale. One of our sound archive treasures is a recording of Nightingale’s famous speech in support of the Light Brigade, made in her home in London.

What is available online?

  • The recording of Nightingale’s speech in support of the Light Brigade has been digitised and can be freely accessed via our sounds pages
  • Selected material from the BL Nightingale personal papers is available through Adam Matthew Digital’s Medical Services and Warfare module

What is available in our Reading Rooms?

Nightingale’s personal papers, and other archive and manuscript material, can be viewed in the Manuscripts Reading Room, and in the Asian and African Studies reading room in the case of the India Office Private Papers. Use our online catalogue, Explore Archives and Manuscripts, to find and request this material.

Explore the British Library contains details of published works about Nightingale, and also provides access to the sound recordings.

You may need to provide us with a letter of introduction or further information in order to access manuscripts and archives. Use the online catalogue to find out whether access conditions apply. It is advisable to contact the Manuscripts Reference Team before travelling to the Library, particularly if you are consulting autograph literary manuscripts. Up to 5 working days’ notice is required to process applications to consult restricted collection items.

There is free access to the Adam Matthew Digital ‘Medical Services and Warfare’ product in the Library’s reading rooms.

What is available in other organisations?

Nightingale maintained an enormous correspondence during her life, and letters sent by her can be found in archives, libraries and museums throughout the world. The National Archives Discovery catalogue is the best place to search for institutions holding Nightingale material.

The Florence Nightingale Museum holds over 3,000 items relating to Nightingale’s life and work.