Saturday, November 24, 2007

Of Lanterns and Lamps

She has long been known as ''Lady of the Lamp'' because of her night time walks tending to sick and wounded soldiers. The woman who almost single-handledly created the modern nursing profession following her experiences during the Crimean War (1854-56).

The daughter of the wealthy landowner was born in Florence, Italy, on 12th May, 1820 and was named Florence after the city where she was born. Her father took the responsibility for her education and taught her Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, history, philosophy and mathematics. Florence's desire to have a career in medicine was reinforced when she met Elizabeth
Blackwell at Bartholomew's Hospital in London. Blackwell was the first woman to qualify as a doctor in the United States. Blackwell, who had to overcome considerable prejudice to achieve her ambition, encouraged her to keep trying and in 1851 Florence's father gave her permission to train as a nurse. Nightingale was a legend in her lifetime but the Crimean War years which made her famous were just two out of a life of ninety years.

In march 1853, the Crimean War was fought between Russia on the side and and alliance of France, UK and Turkey on the other. Most of the conflict took place on the Crimean peninsula, with additional actions occuring in Turkey and the Baltic Sea region. Soon after British soldiers arrived in Turkey, they began going down with cholera and malaria. Within a few weeks, an estimated 8,000 men were suffering from these two diseases. In those years, there was a considerable prejudice against women's involment in medicine. Upon the fact that a large number of British soldiers were dying of cholera, there was a public outcry and the government was forced to change its mind. Nightingale volunteered her services and was eventually given permission to take a group of thirty-eight nurses to Turkey.

She arrived to the army hospital. It was situated at the entrance to the Bosphorus, Uskudar (known as Chrysopolis -Golden City- in antiquity and Scutari in Byzantine times) is an old residential district on the Asian side of the City, founded in the 7th century BC. Magnificent mosques, old wooden houses and the large Selimiye Barracks are all located in this district. Built in 1800 by Selim III, being the world's largest barrack of its time, Selimiye Barracks is situated between Uskudar and Kadikoy, close to the sea of Marmara.

The Florence Nightingale Museum in Istanbul is housed in Selimiye Barracks within the Peace headquarters of the Turkish First Army Command on an active military base. In 1954, to mark the centennial of her arrival in Crimea, the Turkish Federation of Nurses converted her rooms in the tower to a museum. The Museum occupies two floors in the Northwest tower. The second floor of the museum contains memorabilia of Florence Nightingale as well as more current artifacts related to the nurses and nursing. Even though this museum is much smaller than the
one in London, it is well worth seeing for lovers of nursing history. Each year a group of Japanese Nursing students visit the museum. There are between 5,000 and 10,000 visitors annually. Visiting the museum is not easy since it's on an active military base. Security at the highest level for everytime! It is possibile to visit it by the Protocol officer after getting a visit permission and supply the requested documents from both foreigner and Turkish citizen. Look at those photos from my visit to the Museum for a while ago, and the Memory Plate I bought there. An old Turkish gas-lamp standing behind of it.

Nightingale found the conditions in the army hospital in Scutari appalling. The men were kept in rooms without blankets or decent food. Unwashed, they were still wearing their army uniforms that were stiff with dirt and gore. Military officers and doctors objected to Nightingale's views on reforming military hospitals. Nightingale was given the task of organizing the barracks hospital and by improving the quality of the sanitation she was able to dramatically reduce to the death-rate of her patients.

Florence Nightingale's experiences in the Crimean War gave her a lasting respect for the common soldier. After the war she wrote ''I stand at the altar of the murdered men and while I live I fight their cause''. Her contribution to Army statistics and comparative hospital statistics in 1860, Nightingale became the first woman to be elected a fellow of the Statistical Society. Her interest in army matters led to her dedicated work on India over the next two decades.

In 1856 Nightingale returned to England as a national heroine. And four months after the peace treaty was signed. She had been deeply shocked by the lack of hygiene and elemantary care that the men received in the British Army. Nightingale therefore decided to work to improve the quality of nursing in military hospitals. Her greatest achievement was to raise nursing to the level of a respectable profession for women. She established the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St Thomas' Hospital in 1860.

Florence Nightingale's writings on hospital planning and organisation had a profound effect in England and across the world.
Her farsighted reforms have influenced the nature of modern health care and her writings continue to be a resource for nurses and health managers. Today there is a Florence Nightingale Hospitals Group in Istanbul, which serves in healthcare organisation established with 5-hospitals in different locations.

Although Nightingale was bedridden for many years, she campaigned tirelessly to improve health standards, publishing 200 books, reports and pamphlets.
Died at the age of 90 in London on 13 August 1910.

She is universally recognised as the founder of modern nursing.

Florence Nightingale's light still shines...


  1. wow very interesting about Florence ...I have ehard of her but never new so much detail.........thanks

  2. Lovely history lesson. I've had a long career in health care and of course knew something about Florence but still you give me new information.


  3. Wow, I did not know all these things about Florence Nightingale although we had a lesson on her during our school years. It is interesting to see the Turkish lantern. The middle part looks similar in design to the Chinese/Japanese lanterns. Thanks for posting this.