Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy on May 12, 1820. During the Crimean War, she and a team of nurses improved the unsanitary conditions at a British base hospital, reducing the death count by two-thirds. Her writings sparked worldwide health care reform. In 1860 she established St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. She died August 13, 1910, in London.
More to Explore
Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820, in Florence, Italy. She was the younger of two children. Nightingale’s affluent British family belonged to elite social circles. Her mother, Frances Nightingale, hailed from a family of merchants and took pride in socializing with people of prominent social standing. Despite her mother’s interest in social climbing, Florence herself was reportedly awkward in social situations. She preferred to avoid being the center of attention whenever possible. Strong-willed, Florence often butted heads with her mother, whom she viewed as overly controlling. Still, like many daughters, she was eager to please her mother. "I think I am got something more good-natured and complying," Florence wrote in her own defense, concerning the mother-daughter relationship.
Florence’s father was William Shore Nightingale, a wealthy landowner who had inherited two estates—one at Lea Hurst, Derbyshire, and the other in Hampshire, Embley Park—when Florence was five years old. Florence was raised on the family estate at Lea Hurst, where her father provided her with a classical education, including studies in German, French and Italian.
From a very young age, Florence Nightingale was active in philanthropy, ministering to the ill and poor people in the village neighboring her family’s estate. By the time she was 16 years old, it was clear to her that nursing was her calling. She believed it to be her divine purpose.
When Nightingale approached her parents and told them about her ambitions to become a nurse, they were not pleased. In fact, her parents forbade her to pursue nursing. During the Victorian Era, a young lady of Nightingale’s social stature was expected to marry a man of means—not take up a job that was viewed as lowly menial labor by the upper social classes. When Nightingale was 17 years old, she refused a marriage proposal from a "suitable" gentleman, Richard Monckton Milnes. Nightingale explained her reason for turning him down, saying that while he stimulated her intellectually and romantically, her "moral…active nature…requires satisfaction, and that would not find it in this life." Determined to pursue her true calling despite her parents’ objections, in 1844, Nightingale enrolled as a nursing student at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserwerth, Germany.
Fact Check We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, contact us!
This Day in History
On this day in 1991, Islamic militants in Lebanon release kidnapped American journalist Terry Anderson after 2,454 days in captivity. As chief Middle East…
Keep up with the latest History shows, online features, special offers and more.Sign up