Florence Nightingale's letter to Sidney Herbert

Description

This frank letter was written by Florence Nightingale to the Secretary of State for War, Sidney Herbert.

A century after her death, Florence Nightingale (1820–1910) continues to divide opinion, regarded by some as the founder of modern nursing, by others as a tyrannical and domineering figure whose achievements fall far short of her myth. 

The British Library’s collection of Nightingale papers, running to over 300 volumes, reveals the many facets of her brilliant and complex personality.

In 1854, amid growing public anger about the state of the military hospitals in the Crimea, Nightingale was appointed by Sidney Herbert to lead a party of nurses to the hospital at Scutari (in modern Istanbul, Turkey). Women had never before been allowed to serve officially in the army, so Nightingale’s position, reporting directly to the Secretary of State, gave her unprecedented authority. 

She arrived in November 1854, just a few days after the Battle of Balaclava and the disastrous Charge of the Light Brigade, and soon found herself in the middle of a major crisis as the military hospitals were overwhelmed with wounded men. 

In this letter she reports on her success in reducing the death-rate at Scutari – which at its height had reached a staggering 52 percent – and also insists, in typically plain-spoken language, on her need for ‘trained nurses’ rather than ‘fat drunken old dames’.

Full title:
Florence Nightingale's letter to Sidney Herbert
Created:
19 February 1855
Format:
Letter
Language:
English
Creator:
Florence Nightingale
Usage terms

Public Domain in most countries other than the UK.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 43393

Related articles

Gender roles in the 19th century

Article by:
Kathryn Hughes
Theme:
Gender and sexuality

From marriage and sexuality to education and rights, Professor Kathryn Hughes looks at attitudes towards gender in 19th-century Britain.

Historical texts

Article by:
The British Library

Explore the documents that mark crucial events in the world's political and social history.

Health and hygiene in the 19th century

Article by:
Liza Picard

In a time when diseases like smallpox, cholera and TB were insatiable and continued to relapse in epidemical waves, Liza Picard explores how medical pioneers and health innovations shaped the landscape of medicine in the 19th century.

Related collection items