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Family ties and spiritual awakening

Nursing in peace and war.

Napier, Sir Charles

Florence Nightingale

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Florence Nightingale at the Barrack Hospital

Where was Florence Nightingale from?

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence , Italy, on May 12, 1820, and was named after her birthplace, where her parents were spending their honeymoon. However, she grew up and spent her life in England, living in Derbyshire, Hampshire, and London .

What did Florence Nightingale study?

Florence Nightingale studied literature, history , philosophy , and mathematics and learned French, German, Italian, Greek, and Latin during her childhood.

What were Florence Nightingale’s religious beliefs?

Raised in a liberal Unitarian household, Florence Nightingale claimed to have had “calls from God” beginning at the age of 16, driving her toward alleviating people’s pain through nursing.

Why is Florence Nightingale nicknamed the “Lady with the Lamp”?

Florence Nightingale would enter the British soldiers’ wards at night with a lantern in her hand and attend to their physical and psychological issues.

What was Florence Nightingale’s most notable written work?

In 1859 Florence Nightingale published her book Notes on Nursing: What It Is, and What It Is Not , a step-by-step guide explaining her methods for attending to the sick.

Read a brief summary of this topic

Florence Nightingale , byname Lady with the Lamp , (born May 12, 1820, Florence [Italy]—died August 13, 1910, London, England), British nurse, statistician, and social reformer who was the foundational philosopher of modern nursing . Nightingale was put in charge of nursing British and allied soldiers in Turkey during the Crimean War . She spent many hours in the wards, and her night rounds giving personal care to the wounded established her image as the “Lady with the Lamp.” Her efforts to formalize nursing education led her to establish the first scientifically based nursing school—the Nightingale School of Nursing, at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London (opened 1860). She also was instrumental in setting up training for midwives and nurses in workhouse infirmaries. She was the first woman awarded the Order of Merit (1907). International Nurses Day , observed annually on May 12, commemorates her birth and celebrates the important role of nurses in health care.

Nightingale, Florence

Florence Nightingale was the second of two daughters born, during an extended European honeymoon, to William Edward and Frances Nightingale. (William Edward’s original surname was Shore; he changed his name to Nightingale after inheriting his great-uncle’s estate in 1815.) Florence was named after the city of her birth. After returning to England in 1821, the Nightingales had a comfortable lifestyle, dividing their time between two homes, Lea Hurst in Derbyshire , located in central England, and Embley Park in warmer Hampshire , located in south-central England. Embley Park, a large and comfortable estate, became the primary family residence, with the Nightingales taking trips to Lea Hurst in the summer and to London during the social season.

Florence was a precocious child intellectually. Her father took particular interest in her education, guiding her through history , philosophy , and literature . She excelled in mathematics and languages and was able to read and write French , German , Italian , Greek , and Latin at an early age. Never satisfied with the traditional female skills of home management, she preferred to read the great philosophers and to engage in serious political and social discourse with her father.

As part of a liberal Unitarian family, Florence found great comfort in her religious beliefs. At the age of 16, she experienced one of several “calls from God.” She viewed her particular calling as reducing human suffering. Nursing seemed the suitable route to serve both God and humankind. However, despite having cared for sick relatives and tenants on the family estates, her attempts to seek nurse’s training were thwarted by her family as an inappropriate activity for a woman of her stature.

Encyclopaedia Britannica thistle graphic to be used with a Mendel/Consumer quiz in place of a photograph.

Despite family reservations, Nightingale was eventually able to enroll at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses at Kaiserswerth in Germany for two weeks of training in July 1850 and again for three months in July 1851. There she learned basic nursing skills, the importance of patient observation, and the value of good hospital organization. In 1853 Nightingale sought to break free from her family environment . Through social connections, she became the superintendent of the Institution for Sick Gentlewomen (governesses) in Distressed Circumstances, in London, where she successfully displayed her skills as an administrator by improving nursing care, working conditions, and efficiency of the hospital. After one year she began to realize that her services would be more valuable in an institution that would allow her to train nurses. She considered becoming the superintendent of nurses at King’s College Hospital in London. However, politics, not nursing expertise, was to shape her next move.

Nightingale, Florence; “Lady with the Lamp”

In October 1853 the Turkish Ottoman Empire declared war on Russia, following a series of disputes over holy places in Jerusalem and Russian demands to exercise protection over the Orthodox subjects of the Ottoman sultan. The British and the French, allies of Turkey, sought to curb Russian expansion. The majority of the Crimean War was fought on the Crimean Peninsula in Russia . However, the British troop base and hospitals for the care of the sick and wounded soldiers were primarily established in Scutari ( Üsküdar ), across the Bosporus from Constantinople ( Istanbul ). The status of the care of the wounded was reported to the London Times by the first modern war correspondent, British journalist William Howard Russell. The newspaper reports stated that soldiers were treated by an incompetent and ineffective medical establishment and that the most basic supplies were not available for care. The British public raised an outcry over the treatment of the soldiers and demanded that the situation be drastically improved.

Sidney Herbert, secretary of state at war for the British government, wrote to Nightingale requesting that she lead a group of nurses to Scutari. At the same time, Nightingale wrote to her friend Liz Herbert, Sidney’s wife, asking that she be allowed to lead a private expedition. Their letters crossed in the mail, but in the end their mutual requests were granted. Nightingale led an officially sanctioned party of 38 women, departing October 21, 1854, and arriving in Scutari at the Barrack Hospital on November 5. Not welcomed by the medical officers, Nightingale found conditions filthy, supplies inadequate, staff uncooperative, and overcrowding severe. Few nurses had access to the cholera wards , and Nightingale, who wanted to gain the confidence of army surgeons by waiting for official military orders for assistance, kept her party from the wards. Five days after Nightingale’s arrival in Scutari, injured soldiers from the Battle of Balaklava and the Battle of Inkerman arrived and overwhelmed the facility. Nightingale said it was the “Kingdom of Hell.”

hospital ward; Scutari (Üsküdar); Crimean War

In order to care for the soldiers properly, it was necessary that adequate supplies be obtained. Nightingale bought equipment with funds provided by the London Times and enlisted soldiers’ wives to assist with the laundry. The wards were cleaned and basic care was provided by the nurses. Most important, Nightingale established standards of care, requiring such basic necessities as bathing, clean clothing and dressings, and adequate food. Attention was given to psychological needs through assistance in writing letters to relatives and through providing educational and recreational activities. Nightingale herself wandered the wards at night, providing support to the patients; this earned her the title of “Lady with the Lamp.” She gained the respect of the soldiers and medical establishment alike. Her accomplishments in providing care and reportedly reducing the mortality rate to about 2 percent brought her fame in England through the press and the soldiers’ letters. (Investigations by historians in the 20th century revealed that the mortality rate at Barrack Hospital under Nightingale’s care was actually much higher than had been reported—the British government had concealed the actual mortality rate.)

In May 1855 Nightingale began the first of several excursions to Crimea; however, shortly after arriving, she fell ill with “Crimean fever”—most likely brucellosis , which she probably contracted from drinking contaminated milk. Nightingale experienced a slow recovery, as no active treatment was available. The lingering effects of the disease were to last for 25 years, frequently confining her to bed because of severe chronic pain.

On March 30, 1856, the Treaty of Paris ended the Crimean War. Nightingale remained in Scutari until the hospitals were ready to close, returning to her home in Derbyshire on August 7, 1856, as a reluctant heroine.


Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale

Often called “the Lady with the Lamp,” Florence Nightingale was a caring nurse and a leader. In addition to writing over 150 books, pamphlets and reports on health-related issues, she is also credited with creating one of the first versions of the pie chart. However, she is mostly known for making hospitals a cleaner and safer place to be.

Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy. Although her parents were from England, she was born in Italy while they were traveling. Both Florence and her older sister Parthenope were named after the Italian cities where they were born. When they returned to England in 1821, the Nightingale family lived in two homes. They had a summer home in Derbyshire called Lea Hurst , and a winter home in Hampshire called Embley. Growing up in a wealthy family, Florence Nightingale was homeschooled by her father and expected to get married at a young age. However, when she was a teenager, Nightingale believed she received a “calling” from God to help the poor and the sick.

Even though it was not a respected profession at the time, Nightingale told her parents that she wanted to become a nurse. Her parents did not approve of her decision and wanted her to get married and raise a family. Nightingale still wanted to be a nurse and refused marriage. Eventually, her father allowed her to go to Germany for three months to study at Pastor Theodore Fliedner’s hospital and school for Lutheran Deaconesses. After finishing her program in Germany, Nightingale went to Paris for extra training with the Sisters of Mercy. By the time she was 33, Nightingale was already making a name for herself in the nursing community. She returned to England in 1853 and became the superintendent and manager of a hospital for “gentlewomen” in London.

When the Crimean War began in 1854, the British were unprepared to deal with the number of sick and injured soldiers. The lack of medical supplies, overcrowding, and unsanitary conditions caused many people to complain. Newspapers began to report about the terrible state of medical care. The Secretary of War, Sidney Herbert asked Nightingale to manage a group of nurses that would go treat the wounded soldiers. She agreed, and on November 4, 1854, Nightingale and 38 nurses arrived at the British camp outside of Constantinople. When they got there, the doctors were unwelcoming because they did not want to work with female nurses. However, as the number of patients increased, the doctors needed their help. The nurses brought supplies, nutritious food, cleanliness, and sanitation to the military hospital. They also provided individual care and support. Nightingale was known for carrying a lamp and checking on the soldiers at night, so they gave her the nickname “the Lady with the Lamp.” Within six months, Nightingale and her team transformed the hospital. The death rate went down from 40 percent to 2 percent because of their work.

When Nightingale returned from the war, she continued to improve the conditions of hospitals. She presented her experiences and her data to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1856. This data was the reason they formed a Royal Commission to improve the health of the British Army. Nightingale was so skilled with data and numbers that in 1858 she was also elected as the first woman member of the Royal Statistical Society. In 1859, Nightingale continued to spread her healthier medical practices by helping to set up the Army Medical College in Chatham. That same year, she published a book called Notes on Nursing: What it is, and What it is Not . Her book gives advice on good patient care and safe hospital environments. As a result of her efforts during the war, a fund was set up for Nightingale to continue teaching nurses in England. In 1860, the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital was officially opened. In her later years, Nightingale was often bedridden from illness. However, she continued to advocate for safe nursing practices until her death.

Although Florence Nightingale died on August 13th, 1910 at the age of 90, her legacy continues. Two years after her death, the International Committee of the Red Cross created the Florence Nightingale Medal, that is given to excellent nurses every two years. Also, International Nurses Day has been celebrated on her birthday since 1965. In May of 2010, the Florence Nightingale Museum at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London reopened to honor the hundredth anniversary of Nightingale’s death.

Fee, Elizabeth, and Mary E Garofalo. “Florence Nightingale and the Crimean War.” American journal of public health vol. 100, no. 9 (2010): 1591. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.188607

Reynolds-Finley Historical Library. “The Life of Florence Nightingale.” The University of Alabama at Birmingham. Accessed May 1, 2018. https://library.uab.edu/locations/reynolds/collections/florence-nightingale/life

The Florence Nightingale Museum. “Florence Nightingale Biography.” Accessed May 3, 2018. https://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/resources/biography/?v=7516fd43adaa.

The National Archives. “Florence Nightingale.” September 05, 2018. http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/florence-nightingale/.



MLA - Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Florence Nightingale." National Women's History Museum. National Women's History Museum, 2019. Date accessed.

Chicago - Alexander, Kerri Lee. "Florence Nightingale." National Women's History Museum. 2019. www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/florence-nightingale.

National Geographic Kids. “Florence Nightingale Facts for Kids.” April 26, 2018. https://www.natgeokids.com/za/discover/history/general-history/florence-nightingale/.

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A Brief Biography of Florence Nightingale

By Tim Lambert

Her Early Life

Florence Nightingale was born in the city of Florence, Italy on 12 May 1820. She was the second daughter of wealthy parents (her elder sister was called Parthenope). When she was young Florence was very interested in mathematics. She was also a devout Christian and when she was 17 she felt God was calling her to serve him. At first, Florence was not sure how God wanted her to serve but by 1844 she was convinced she was to nurse the sick.

Her parents, William and Frances disapproved because at that time nursing was definitely not a respectable job. Her family tried to talk Florence out of it but she was determined. A man named Richard Monckton Miles tried to persuade Florence to marry him but she refused even though she adored him. Florence Nightingale was determined to sacrifice herself.

Nevertheless, it was several years before she got any nursing experience. In 1851 she went to Kaiserwerth in Germany to learn. Then in 1853, she was given her first post, reorganizing a small hospital in Harvey Street, London, The Institution for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Distressed Circumstances.

Florence In The Crimean War

As a result of her work Sidney Herbert, the Secretary of War invited her to go on a mission to soldiers wounded fighting the Russians. (At that time Britain, France and Turkey were fighting Russia. Nightingale sailed with 38 nurses to Turkey on 21 October 1854.

They arrived at Scutari Hospital in November. But an alarming number of soldiers in Scutari Hospital died of disease while under Nightingale’s care. (The death rate in Scutari was higher than in other, similar hospitals). So in 1855, the British government sent a sanitary commission to investigate. They found the hospital at Scutari was built over a blocked sewer. The commissioners flushed the sewer and improved ventilation in the hospital. As a result number of deaths in the hospital dropped dramatically.

Despite the fact that the death rate in her hospital was very high and it only fell when the sanitary commission did its work Florence became a heroine to the public.

Nightingale returned to Britain in 1856. She was commissioned to investigate the living conditions of British soldiers in peacetime. In 1858 she published her findings as Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration of the British Army . This work contained many statistical analyses.

Though she is usually remembered as a nurse Florence was a talented statistician. In 1858 she became the first woman member of the Royal Statistical Society. In 1874 she became an honorary member of the American Statistical Society. Florence did NOT invent the pie chart (it was invented by William Playfair in 1801). For her work, Nightingale used polar area diagrams (invented by a Frenchman named Andre-Michel Guerry in 1829).

In 1860 Florence Nightingale opened the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St Thomas Hospital. She greatly raised the standards of nursing. Every probationer who entered the school was interviewed by Florence and supervised by her. In old age, Florence suffered from ill health and she went blind. By the mid-1890s Florence was an invalid. However, she was awarded the Order of Merit in 1907.

write a short biography of florence nightingale

Florence Nightingale died on 13 August 1910.

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Florence nightingale.

... worsted work and practising quadrilles,
... her zeal, her devotion, and her perseverance would yield to no rebuff and to no difficulty. She went steadily and unwearyingly about her work with a judgement, a self-sacrifice, a courage, a tender sympathy, and withal a quiet and unostentatious demeanour that won the hearts of all who were not prevented by official prejudices from appreciating the nobility of her work and character.


... preventable or mitigable zymotic diseases
... had clearly marked out ... to be a single woman.

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Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale


Who Was Florence Nightingale?

Part of a wealthy family, Florence Nightingale defied the expectations of the time and pursued what she saw as her God-given calling of nursing. During the Crimean War, she and a team of nurses improved the unsanitary conditions at a British base hospital, greatly reducing the death count. Her writings sparked worldwide health care reform, and in 1860 she established St. Thomas' Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. A revered hero of her time, she died on August 13, 1910, in London.

Background and Early Life

Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy, the city which inspired her name. The younger of two daughters, Nightingale was part of an affluent British clan that belonged to elite social circles. Her mother, Frances Nightingale, hailed from a family of merchants and took pride in socializing with people of prominent standing. Despite her mother's interests, Nightingale herself was reportedly awkward in social situations and preferred to avoid being the center of attention whenever possible. Strong-willed, she often butted heads with her mother, whom she viewed as overly controlling.

Nightingale's father was William Edward Nightingale (having changed his original surname, "Shore"), a wealthy landowner who would be associated with two estates—one at Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, and the other at Embly, Hampshire. Nightingale was provided with a classical education, including studies in mathematics along with German, French and Italian.

From a young age, Nightingale was active in philanthropy, ministering to the ill and poor people in the village neighboring her family’s estate. Nightingale eventually came to the conclusion that nursing was her calling; she believed the vocation to be her divine purpose.

When Nightingale approached her parents and told them about her ambitions to become a nurse, they were not pleased and forbade her to pursue appropriate training. During the Victorian Era, where English women had almost no property rights, a young lady of Nightingale's social stature was expected to marry a man of means to ensure her class standing—not take up a job that was viewed by the upper social classes as lowly menial labor.

In 1849, Nightingale refused a marriage proposal from a "suitable" gentleman, Richard Monckton Milnes, who had pursued her for years. She explained her reason for turning him down, saying that while he stimulated her intellectually and romantically, her "moral…active nature" called for something beyond a domestic life. (One biographer has suggested that the rejection of marriage to Milnes was not in fact an outright refusal.) Determined to pursue her true calling despite her parents' objections, Nightingale eventually enrolled as a nursing student in 1850 at the Institution of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserswerth, Germany.

Crimean War

In the early 1850s, Nightingale returned to London, where she took a nursing job in a Harley Street hospital for ailing governesses. Her performance there so impressed her employer that Nightingale was promoted to superintendent. Nightingale also volunteered at the Middlesex Hospital around this time, grappling with a cholera outbreak and unsanitary conditions conducive to the rapid spread of the disease. Nightingale made it her mission to improve hygiene practices, significantly lowering the death rate at the hospital in the process.

In October 1853, the Crimean War broke out. Allied British and French forces were at war against the Russian Empire for control of Ottoman territory. Thousands of British soldiers were sent to the Black Sea, where supplies quickly dwindled. By 1854, no fewer than 18,000 soldiers had been admitted into military hospitals.

At the time, there were no female nurses stationed at hospitals in the Crimea. After the Battle of Alma, England was in an uproar about the neglect of their ill and injured soldiers, who not only lacked sufficient medical attention due to hospitals being horribly understaffed but also languished in appallingly unsanitary conditions.

Pioneering Nurse

In late 1854, Nightingale received a letter from Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, asking her to organize a corps of nurses to tend to the sick and fallen soldiers in the Crimea. Given full control of the operation, she quickly assembled a team of almost three dozen nurses from a variety of religious orders and sailed with them to the Crimea just a few days later.

Although they had been warned of the horrid conditions there, nothing could have prepared Nightingale and her nurses for what they saw when they arrived at Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople. The hospital sat on top of a large cesspool, which contaminated the water and the building itself. Patients lay in their own excrement on stretchers strewn throughout the hallways. Rodents and bugs scurried past them. The most basic supplies, such as bandages and soap, grew increasingly scarce as the number of ill and wounded steadily increased. Even water needed to be rationed. More soldiers were dying from infectious diseases like typhoid and cholera than from injuries incurred in battle.

The no-nonsense Nightingale quickly set to work. She procured hundreds of scrub brushes and asked the least infirm patients to scrub the inside of the hospital from floor to ceiling. Nightingale herself spent every waking minute caring for the soldiers. In the evenings she moved through the dark hallways carrying a lamp while making her rounds, ministering to patient after patient. The soldiers, who were both moved and comforted by her endless supply of compassion, took to calling her "the Lady with the Lamp." Others simply called her "the Angel of the Crimea." Her work reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.

In addition to vastly improving the sanitary conditions of the hospital, Nightingale instituted an "invalid's kitchen" where appealing food for patients with special dietary requirements was prepared. She also established a laundry so that patients would have clean linens. as well as a classroom and library for intellectual stimulation and entertainment.

Recognition and Appreciation

Nightingale decided to use the money to further her cause. In 1860, she funded the establishment of St. Thomas' Hospital, and within it, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. Nightingale became a figure of public admiration. Poems, songs and plays were written and dedicated in the heroine's honor. Young women aspired to be like her. Eager to follow her example, even women from the wealthy upper classes started enrolling at the training school. Thanks to Nightingale, nursing was no longer frowned upon by the upper classes; it had, in fact, come to be viewed as an honorable vocation.

Based on her observations during the Crimea War, Nightingale wrote Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army , a massive report published in 1858 analyzing her experience and proposing reforms for other military hospitals. Her research would spark a total restructuring of the War Office's administrative department, including the establishment of a Royal Commission for the Health of the Army in 1857. Nightingale was also noted for her statistician skills, creating coxcomb pie charts on patient mortality in Scutari that would influence the direction of medical epidemiology.

While at Scutari, Nightingale had contracted the bacterial infection brucellosis, also known as Crimean fever, and would never fully recover. By the time she was 38 years old, she was homebound and routinely bedridden, and would be so for the remainder of her life. Fiercely determined and dedicated as ever to improving health care and alleviating patients’ suffering, Nightingale continued her work from her bed.

Residing in Mayfair, she remained an authority and advocate of health care reform, interviewing politicians and welcoming distinguished visitors from her bed. In 1859, she published Notes on Hospitals , which focused on how to properly run civilian hospitals.

Throughout the U.S. Civil War, she was frequently consulted about how to best manage field hospitals. Nightingale also served as an authority on public sanitation issues in India for both the military and civilians, although she had never been to India herself.

In 1907, she was conferred the Order of Merit by King Edward , and received the Freedom of the City of London the following year, becoming the first woman to receive the honor. In May 1910, she received a celebratory message from King George on her 90th birthday.

Death and Legacy

In August 1910, Nightingale fell ill but seemed to recover and was reportedly in good spirits. A week later, on the evening of Friday, August 12, 1910, she developed an array of troubling symptoms. She died unexpectedly at around 2 p.m. the following day, Saturday, August 13, at her home in London.

Characteristically, she had expressed the desire that her funeral be a quiet and modest affair, despite the public's desire to honor Nightingale—who tirelessly devoted her life to preventing disease and ensuring safe and compassionate treatment for the poor and the suffering. Respecting her last wishes, her relatives turned down a national funeral. The "Lady with the Lamp" was laid to rest in her family's plot at St. Margaret's Church, East Wellow, in Hampshire, England.

The Florence Nightingale Museum , which sits at the site of the original Nightingale Training School for Nurses, houses more than 2,000 artifacts commemorating the life and career of the "Angel of the Crimea." To this day, Nightingale is broadly acknowledged and revered as the pioneer of modern nursing.


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Health and Medicine

Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Lamp

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) was a legend in her own lifetime and one of the most famous women in British history. Her work in the Crimea set the standards for modern nursing. For the rest of her life, she continued to campaign for improved sanitary conditions in both military and civilian hospitals.

Miss Nightingale in the Hospital in Scutari, 1856

Florence Nightingale at Scutari, 1856

Miss Nightingale in the Hospital in Scutari, 1856

Training and appointment

Born into a wealthy family, Florence overcame the narrow opportunities offered to girls of her station. In 1851, despite the disapproval of her family, she completed a course of nursing training in Germany.

Moved by newspaper accounts of soldiers' suffering in the Crimean War (1854-56), Florence answered a government appeal for nurses. She was soon appointed Superintendent of the Female Nurses in the Hospitals in the East.

The hospital and cemetery at Scutari, 1856

The hospital and cemetery at Scutari, 1856

The hospital and cemetery at Scutari, 1856

Arrival at Scutari

On 21 October 1854, Florence and her party of nurses left London. They crossed the Channel and travelled through France to Marseilles. From there they sailed to Constantinople (now Istanbul), arriving on 3 November.

At Scutari, near Constantinople, the conditions were dire. The dirty and vermin-ridden hospital lacked even basic equipment and provisions. The medical staff were swamped by the large number of soldiers being shipped across the Black Sea from the war in the Crimea. More of these patients were suffering from disease than from battle wounds.

'All were swarming with vermin, huge lice crawling all about their persons and clothes. Many were grimed with mud, dirt, blood and gunpowder stains. Several were completely prostrated by fever and dysentery. The sight was a pitiable one and such as I had never before witnessed...  'There has been somehow unaccountable neglect in the arrangements for this hospital. Until some hours after the arrival of the men there were neither stores, attendants nor the necessary refreshments on the spot. During this afternoon I attended single handed to the wounds and wants of 74 helpless men.' Assistant Surgeon Henry Bellew describing Scutari hospital , January 1855

Despite these conditions, the male army doctors didn't want the help of Florence and her nurses. At first, they saw her opinions as an attack on their professionalism. But after fresh casualties arrived from the Battle of Inkerman in November 1854, the staff were soon fully stretched and accepted the nurses' aid.

Florence and her nurses improved the medical and sanitary arrangements, set up food kitchens, washed linen and clothes, wrote home on behalf of the soldiers, and introduced reading rooms.

Florence Nightingale's Lamp

Florence Nightingale’s lamp, c1856

Florence Nightingale's Lamp

The Lady with the Lamp

Florence gained the nickname 'the Lady with the Lamp' during her work at Scutari. 'The Times' reported that at night she would walk among the beds, checking the wounded men holding a light in her hand.

The image of 'the Lady with the Lamp' captured the public's imagination and Florence soon became a celebrity. One of the main creators of the Nightingale cult was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who immortalised her in his poem 'Santa Filomena' .

'A Lady with a lamp shall stand. In the great history of the land, A noble type of good, Heroic Womanhood'. 'Santa Filomena' by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow , 1857

Florence and her nurses greatly improved the comfort of the men at Scutari. But, by February 1855, the death rate at the hospital had risen to 42 per cent. Florence mistakenly blamed the high number of deaths on inadequate nutrition, not on poor sanitation.

The unventilated building sat on top of a damaged sewer. The death rate only dropped after the sanitary commission repaired the sewers and improved the ventilation.

Florence Nightingale in the Military Hospital at Scutari, 1855

Florence Nightingale in the Military Hospital at Scutari, 1855

Florence Nightingale in the Military Hospital at Scutari, 1855

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In January 1855, Florence wrote to Lord Raglan, the British commander in the Crimea, pointing out deficiencies in medical arrangements for the sick and wounded at Scutari. She wrote about the lack of trained medical orderlies in the wards and pointed out that 'hundreds of lives may depend upon' addressing this situation.

Letter of Lieutenant-General Sir John Burgoyne on Florence Nightingale, 27 March 1855

Letter of Lieutenant-General Sir John Burgoyne on Florence Nightingale, 27 March 1855

Troubles and turmoils

Lord Raglan was sympathetic, but others were less enthusiastic. General Sir John Burgoyne believed that although 'the hospitals appear to me to be in excellent order' and the patients content, there was 'an under current of troubles and turmoils'.

He felt that Florence did 'not appear to be amiable in ordinary intercourse with her equals or superiors. She likes to govern, and bestows all her tenderness upon those who depend upon her'.

Florence sketched at the time of her illness, 1856

Florence sketched at the time of her illness, 1856

Florence sketched at the time of her illness, 1856

Crimean fever

On 2 May 1855, Florence left the hospital in Scutari in order to witness for herself the conditions of the army at Balaklava. Within a few days of her arrival in the harbour, she was struck down with 'Crimean fever'.

Although it was feared that she was near to death, Lord Raglan was able to telegraph London that she was out of danger by 24 May. However, her recovery was slow, hampered in part by her demanding schedule.

'During the greater part of the day I have been without food necessarily, except a little brandy and water (you see I am taking to drinking like my comrades in the Army)' Florence Nightingale writing to Sidney Herbert, Secretary at War, during her illness , 1855

On returning to her duties, the exertion of travelling to far-flung field hospitals took its toll on Florence's delicate health. She was given a mule cart, but this overturned one night. Colonel William McMurdo of the Land Transport Corps presented her with her Crimean carriage, which also served as an ambulance.

Model of carriage used by Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, 1856

Model of the carriage used by Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, 1856

Florence was also a ground-breaking statistician. When she arrived at Scutari, the number of deaths was not being recorded appropriately. Her use of statistics cut through rumour and hearsay, while diagrams provided hard evidence in support of her recommendations for reforms in patient care.

Through data analysis, she found that soldiers were more likely to survive if they stayed in the hospitals at the front (which had a 12.5 per cent mortality rate) than if they were transferred to the hospital in Scutari (which had a 37.5 per cent mortality rate). In 1859, in recognition of her pioneering work, she was elected the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society.   The chart below, which Florence included in one of her books, allowed multiple data comparisons in one diagram. It clearly demonstrated that more soldiers had died in the Crimea in 1855-56 from disease (shown in blue) than from wounds (shown in red).

Florence Nightingale's diagram showing causes of death in the Crimea, c1856

Nightingale Training School

Florence returned to England in August 1856. In the years that followed, she continued to campaign for the reform of nursing and for cleaner hospitals.

By 1859, well-wishers had donated over £40,000 to the Nightingale Fund. Florence used this money to set up the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas's Hospital on 9 July 1860.

Once the nurses were trained, they were sent to hospitals all over Britain, where they introduced her ideas. Florence also published two books, 'Notes on Hospital' (1859) and 'Notes on Nursing'   (1859), that laid the foundations of modern nursing practice.

The Nightingale Jewel brooch given to Florence Nightingale by Queen Victoria in 1855

The Nightingale Jewel given by Queen Victoria to Florence Nightingale in 1855

The Nightingale Jewel brooch given to Florence Nightingale by Queen Victoria in 1855

Recognition and adulation

Florence was showered with awards and decorations in recognition of her work. She became a national icon.

Her contemporary fame was reflected in the production of merchandise commemorating her achievements. Florence herself was publicity-shy and was appalled at the adulation she received. But this did not prevent the development of a whole industry based on her celebrity.

Queen Victoria herself awarded Florence a jewelled brooch, designed by her husband, Prince Albert. It was dedicated: 'To Miss Florence Nightingale, as a mark of esteem and gratitude for her devotion towards the Queen's brave soldiers.’

Florence Nightingale was the first of eight women to receive the Order of Merit.

The highly prestigious order's membership is limited to the sovereign and a maximum of 24 others at any one time..

Order of Merit awarded to Florence Nightingale in 1907

Order of Merit awarded to Florence Nightingale in 1907

Bust presented to Florence Nightingale by men of the British Army in 1862

Bust presented to Florence Nightingale by men of the British Army in 1862

Bust presented to Florence Nightingale by men of the British Army in 1862

Florence later suffered from what is now known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Despite being bedridden for many years, she still campaigned tirelessly to improve health standards.

She died on 13 August 1910 aged 90. Her relatives declined the offer of burial in Westminster Abbey. She was instead buried at St Margaret's Church in East Wellow, near her parents' home.

Florence Nightingale, 1860

Florence Nightingale, 1860

Before Florence Nightingale, nursing was not considered a respectable profession. With the exception of nuns, the women who worked as nurses were often ill-trained and poorly disciplined. Most were working-class. Florence was determined to encourage educated, 'respectable' women into nursing.

Her work in the Crimea set the standards for modern nursing and helped transform its public image.

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