Ask people what they know about the Crimean War and you’ll undoubtedly get a blank look.  Mention Florence Nightingale and you’ll at least get a nod.

In November 1854, 35 British female nurses encountered a nightmare of human suffering when they assumed their duties during the Crimean War.  Spearheading the medical effort was Florence Nightingale. Here’s what the nurses found.

      Typhus  Dysentery     Cholera     Malnutrition     Filth     Lice  Fleas      Rodents

      Inadequate clothing     Wretched ventilation    Crushed morale     Overlowing latrines

      Decaying buildings   Inch-thick feces on floor   Cesspool leaching into drinking water

At that time, nursing was regarded as lowly, immodest work performed by servants or the poor, a mere step above prostitution.  It was no surprise that Florence and her nurses met staunch resistance upon their arrival at the military hospital. When they were finally allowed to tend to the patients, one of the nurses, Elizabeth Davis, describes her experiences thus:

I began to open some of their wounds.  The first that I touched was a case of frost bite.  The toes of both the man’s feet fell off with the bandages.  The hands of another fell off at the wrist.  It was…six weeks since the wounds of many of those men had been looked at and dressed.…From many of the patients, I removed (maggots) in handfuls.
Pitting her strong will against the military establishment, Florence set her nurses to work cleaning the hospital and ensuring soldiers were properly fed and clothed. The troops were, for the first time, being treated with decency and respect.  Her work reputedly reduced the hospital’s death rate by two-thirds.  The trailblazer was said to have the sharpest mind and the most effective leadership on the British side of the war.
Florence returned to England as a figure of public admiration. Over the following decades, Florence helped establish nursing as a respectable career for British women.  She also trained nurses in workhouses to help treat the needy.  Her goal was to make medical care readily available to everyone, regardless of their class or income.
During the U.S. Civil War, she was frequently consulted about how best to manage military field hospitals.

The genesis of the nursing profession lies on the Crimean peninsula with the Russian Sisters of Mercy, the French Sisters of Charity, and Florence Nightingale’s British nurses.  Headway continued to be made by Clara Barton in U.S. Civil War.

When all the medical officers have retired for the night, and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.

                                                                                             - London’s The Times
                                                                                               November 1854

Written by : Jane