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Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale, the daughter of the wealthy landowner, William Nightingale of Embly Park, Hampshire, was born in Florence, Italy, on 12th May, 1820. Her father was a Unitarian and a Whig who was involved in the anti-slavery movement. As a child, Florence was very close to her father, who, without a son, treated her as his friend and companion. He took responsibility for her education and taught her Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, history, philosophy and mathematics.

At seventeen she felt herself to be called by God to some unnamed great cause. Florence's mother, Fanny Nightingale, also came from a staunch Unitarian family. Fanny was a domineering woman who was primarily concerned with finding her daughter a good husband. She was therefore upset by Florence's decision to reject Lord Houghton's offer of marriage. Florence refused to marry several suitors, and at the age of twenty-five told her parents she wanted to become a nurse. Her parents were totally opposed to the idea as nursing was associated with working class women.

Florence's desire to have a career in medicine was reinforced when she met Elizabeth Blackwell at St. Bartholomew's Hospital in London. Blackwell was the first woman to qualify as a doctor in the United States. Blackwell, who had to overcome considerable prejudice to achieve her ambition, encouraged her to keep trying and in 1851 Florence's father gave her permission to train as a nurse.

Florence, now thirty-one, went to Kaiserwerth, Germany where she studied to become a nurse at the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses. Two years later she was appointed resident lady superintendent of a hospital for invalid women in Harley Street, London.
In March, 1853, Russia invaded Turkey. Britain and France, concerned about the growing power of Russia, went to Turkey's aid. This conflict became known as the Crimean War. Soon after British soldiers arrived in Turkey, they began going down with cholera and malaria. Within a few weeks an estimated 8,000 men were suffering from these two diseases.

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