She was more than you think


THIS week in 1854, Florence Nightingale and team of 38 nurses arrived in the Crimea to set up a hospital for British troops.
She was not the lady with the lamp. She was the lady with the brain, according to her biographer Edward Cook
Nightingale disdained “all that ministering angel nonsense,” that surrounded her name.
She was so much more than “the lady with the lamp” who comforted dying soldiers during the Crimean War and was the founder of professional nursing.
Florence-mania started with an artist’s impression in a London newspaper of an angelic-looking woman gliding through a Crimean hospital ward holding a lamp.
Statuettes and lace mats with Nightingale’s image were mass produced for an enchanted Victorian-era public. The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of the lady with the Lamp, who “flitted from room to room” kissing “speechless sufferers” in the “glimmering gloom.” Nightingale thought all that was vulgar.
After two years in the Crimea, Nightingale slipped back into England under the pseudonym of Miss Smith to avoid all the fuss.
That’s when her work really began.
Founding the nursing industry was just one of her achievements. She was a mathematician, feminist rebel, an educator, a health reformer, a designer of hospitals, and, according to one biography, a radical theologian.
Nearly all of these works were accomplished while she was bedridden, invalid, and reclusive.
“Few know the Florence who wrote a ‘new religion’ for England’s poor; or the Florence who penned a 50-page tirade about how Victorian families ‘murdered’ their daughters by keeping them in the drawing room; or the Florence who was writing a book on medieval mystics; or the Florence who retired to her home as an invalid at 38 and, from there, orchestrated incredible poor reform around the globe for 50 years after Crimea,” wrote Val Webb, author of Florence Nightingale: The Making of a Radical Theologian.
Nightingale wrote widely about the causes of poverty and crime. She campaigned for medical care for those unable to pay for it, advising the Australian Government on medical treatment for Aboriginals and the British Government on the cholera epidemics in India.
At the basis of all her work was the belief that she had been called by God at the age of 17 to help the poor. She said God inspired her to believe she could change the world for the better.
Val Webb wrote that part of Nightingale’s vocation to the poor was a “new theology” that enabled them to work to change their lot, rather than accepting Church of England theology that said God ordained who would be rich and poor.
She saw life as not accepting one’s pathetic lot on Earth and ensuring a place in heaven by constant absolution from sin. It was about discovering the laws of God in the universe in order to change the world and bring about God’s reign on Earth.
She was highly critical of the Church of England’s male-centered power structure, which she described as unjust.
Another Nightingale biographer, Barbara Dossey, wrote: “Her God was not a white male who spoke only English, but a Universal Truth permeating all religions….Spirituality was the unifying force in her life. It infused every thing she thought and did in her long life of 90 years.”
At the end, dying at the age of 90, she refused to be buried at Westminster Abbey. Instead, she was buried outside a little church. On her gravestone is the simple inscription “FN: Born 1820. Died 1910”.
Her departing message was this: “Live your life while you have it. Life is a splendid gift. There is nothing small in it. “


11 thoughts on “She was more than you think

  1. Yet the belief of that time was women were inferior .
    In 1918 a coalition government passed the Representation of the People Act 1918, enfranchising women “”Over the age of 30″” who met “Minimum property qualifications” in other words the wealthy “Ladies”. In 1928 the Conservative government passed the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act giving the vote to all women over the age of 21..


  2. I recall you wrote a similar article on Florence Nightingale in Faithworks in the Herald Sun a few years ago, I found it inspiring then and perhaps more so today. A women decades ahead of her time, she truly understood and embraced that life was about the struggle for change not just the mere acceptance of a perceived ‘lot’ ordained upon us.
    Blind acceptance and indifference are the true scourge of life.


  3. Atheist thinking
    on November 4, 2014 at 21:04 said:
    Do you thank your entity for suppressing women .
    Well many men today still “BELIEVE ” women are not good enough.

    on November 5, 2014 at 09:41 said:
    God doesn’t supress women. Some men have the old fashioned idea that women are inferior. They are clearly deceived. Recent reports suggest atheist organisations have a problem with women.


    The tact of “Your,s is just as bad as mine”
    “””And totally invalid and irrelevant “”””

    Every organisation that has men in it have a problem with women .
    It has been going on like that for forty thousand years .
    And wearing rose colored glasses with vaseline smeared over them will not end it .

    And is it not your religion’s claim man was made in the entities image and that entity is alway given a male sex .


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