By: Jak Rogers
DOB: May 12th, 1820 – August 13th, 1910; age 90.
Florence Nightingale is a name that should sound familiar and I guarantee that it is not because of her sexuality. Many would remember her pioneering in public health or her advancements in nursing that make the profession what it is today. Through this blog you will hopefully be able to see what an independent woman Florence was and the way that she rejected the social norms of the time. Credit for photo.
Florence was born out of Florence, Italy, hence where she got her name, to a financially well off British family. It is important to remember that during this time period, in the 1800s, upper class women were expected to marry, keep up the home, and be a hostess. Florence completely rejected these ideas by always being obsessed with helping people, which led her to nursing! Nursing during this time period was not seen as a developed profession and it was explained as outright dangerous. It seemed as if Nightingale knew this path she wanted to take from the time she was 16.
At 17, Nightingale declined what her parents thought was a “suitable” man for her to marry. Her reasoning was that she would not be able to find satisfaction in the marriage, at least not in this lifetime. I thought this was interesting because this could have meant she was alluding to not wanting to be with men or maybe even meaning that due to how society is in her lifetime, she could never be happy. While this is just an assumption, there are many artifacts that preserve Nightingale’s own quotes that may allude to her having relationships with women too! The example below can be found here.
“I have lived and slept in the same beds with English Countesses and Prussian farm women. No woman has excited passions among women more than I have.”
While this quote may be talking about exciting women intellectually, from her lack of relationships at all I find this hard to believe; regardless, even a combination of identities still classifies her as part of the queer community! Florence spent many years trying to dismantle sexist ideologies but would not classify as a women’s right activist today. This could be due to her relationship with her family, she had likely internalized the teachings of her mother and father about how women were subordinate. While she was actively dismantling sexism through her work, she still advocated for her belief that women should not lead in important fields. All of her beliefs aside, she took advancements in public health, hygiene, and nursing to a completely new level.
At the age of 24, she headed to Germany to attend a nursing school and returned to London in the early 1850s. In London, she took a job at a hospital and within one year she was promoted to superintendent. In 1853, the Crimean war broke out and Nightingale was contacted directly by The Secretary of War in ‘54. She assembled a group of 34 nurses and reduced the death rate by more than two thirds. From this she was nicknamed “the Lady with the Lamp” because of the compassion that she showed to these men and the endless efforts she brought to caring for them. More information can be found at this website.
After the war, Florence was surprisingly met by Queen Victoria herself when she arrived home to be rewarded for all of her work. This reward she received was called the “Nightingale Jewel” and has a $250,000 prize along with a broach.
Today the medal to the right is dedicated to Florence Nightingale and recognizes those advanced or exceeding in the nursing field.
With the money she received, she founded the first professional nursing school at St. Thomas’ Hospital, which is now part of King’s College.
At age 88, she received the merit of honor awarded by King Edward and also received a congratulatory message from King George on her 90th birthday. Florence Nightingale passed away three months after this message and her family refused the national funeral due to her wishes. Born as a humble human being, she remained this way until her last wishes on this earth. She had a private funeral and was laid to rest in Hampshire, England.
Direct Impact From Florence
While sexuality is very individual, the purpose of these blogs were to realize how much the queer community has accomplished in history. It is also to inform and remind each and every person that no matter how isolated or “different” one may feel, there have always been LGBTQIA+ identities. These first two blogs between Stormé and Florence have explored people who have, or would likely to nowadays identify as lesbians. I believe that the queer community is being served an injustice in learning our own history.
There are so many unique identities that need to be explored, it is a powerful feeling knowing that there was someone who feels the same that came before you and also shaped history in an unimaginable way. History can be easily erased, it is also easier to do when the circumstances individuals were placed in made it unsafe to disclose certain information about their identity. This results in no documentation of one’s sexuality or gender identity creating a disconnect between the queer community today and our ancestors. Although this is unfortunate, we should be grateful from where we started from and try to remember that representation is slowly growing.
Check back on September 30th for the blog on Alan Turing!
Other helpful resources used in this blog:
History.com Editors. (2009, November 09). Florence Nightingale. Retrieved September 08, 2020, from https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/florence-nightingale-1
The banner is credited to this website.