Florence Nightingale - The Lady With The Lamp And A Mission

By Laura Tannenbaum | 04 November 2004
Shows black and white portrait of Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale Portrait: Carte de Visite photograph by Lenthall (1961)

Laura Tannenbaum grabbed the nearest lamp and headed to London to take in the latest offering from the fantastic Florence Nightingale Museum.

Marking the 150th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's heroics in the Crimean War, Calamity Unparalleled: Order out of Chaos, a new exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum is on until April 2005

It features portraits, pressed flowers, buttons, broaches, hospital reports and a register of 229 nurses who served with Nightingale in the Crimea, but most importantly it features Athena, Florence’s beloved stuffed owl.

"This is probably the best exhibition we have had yet," said Alex Attewell, director of the museum. "The quality is wonderful and the sense of who the real Florence Nightingale was really comes through."

"Artist Diane Cooper has especially produced a fantastic anniversary cartoon for the exhibition," added curator Caroline Roberts. "It is a striking, colourful and graphic piece of artwork and incorporates a number of key figures and central events of the war."

Shows a photograph of Athena, Florence's pet-owl.

Athena, Florence Nightingale's pet owl. © 24 Hour Museum

The new display includes items being shown at the museum for the first time, while other pieces are from Lea Hurst, the Derbyshire house where Florence grew up.

The museum is currently fundraising to buy a number of Nightingale artefacts - including Athena, which it presently has on loan from the owners of Lea Hurst, AgeCare.

So far £9000 has been raised, with £5000 coming from the Friends of the Museum. In order for Athena to become a permanent part of the collection another £4000 is needed and the museum is looking for donations.

For four years Athena was Nightingale’s much-loved pet, carried in her pocket. It is even said that on the eve of her departure for the Crimea, Athena died of a broken heart.

Shows a cartoon, commissioned from Diane Cooper, especially for the new exhibition.

Artist Diane Cooper especially commissioned this cartoon for the new exhibition.

Florence Nightingale achieved so much throughout her full life that it is intriguing how the public became so absorbed in the dreamy image of her nighttime rounds by candlelight at the Scutari hospital in Turkey.

She is most commonly referred to as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ but the new display intends to break common myths about her life, providing new perspectives on her many distinguishing roles during the Crimean War that often get overlooked.

Nightingale wasn't the reserved Victorian gentlewoman most of us imagine. She was a bright, tough, driven professional, a brilliant coordinator and statistician, one of the most significant women in 19th century England.

During the Crimea she served as barrack mistress, cook, general dealer, purveyor, scavenger, great reformer and formidable leader. She organised the financial affairs of the soldiers, wrote letters to their loved ones, set up a laundry, reorganised the kitchens and hospitals and looked after convalescing patients.

Shows the life sized reconstruction of a Crimean ward, to be seen at the Florence Nightingale Museum

Life size reconstruction of a Crimean ward to be seen at the museum.

Sylvia Denton, President of the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), was given the honour of cutting the red ribbon and, declaring the exhibition open, she remarked that Nightingale "served as an icon in the skill, craft and profession of nursing."

She praised the museum for raising awareness of nurses and explained that Florence Nightingale's importance ranged "from the bedside to the boardroom", describing her as an emblem of British and worldwide nursing with every aspect of 21st century nursing owing something to her.

"This woman knew about the essence of care, hygiene and sanitation and preached the lessons she had learned in the Crimea," added Denton. As a result of her experiences, she effected a revolutionary change in nursing and medical care of the armed forces, which quickly spread into civilian hospitals.

"Many aspects are still relevant to the NHS today," said Denton. "She serves as a fine example."

Shows a watercolour painting by General Edward Wray of the burial ground at the General Hospital in Scutari. (April 1855)

Watercolour by General edward Wray of the burial ground at the General Hospital, Scutari (April 1955).

The anniversary of the Crimean war does not only offer a chance to celebrate Nightingale’s legacy, but also the role of Mary Seacole.

Mary Seacole, a well-educated nurse from Jamaica, came to Britain with the intention of helping British soldiers. She battled to be given the post, but apparently the British were not ready to welcome a black nurse.

Shows a bronze bust of Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole.

Bronze bust of Mary Seacole. © Florence Nightingale Museum.

Instead of giving up, she took matters into her own hands, travelled on her own accord, and in 1856 established the British Hotel near Balaclava, using her own money to provide comfortable quarters for sick and recovering officers.

She showed considerable courage in treating the wounded on the battlefields and is now regarded as one of the Crimean heroines.

Shows a watercolour painting by Captain Hedley Vicars of the wounded being transported from the field of Inkermann.

Watercolour by Captain Hedley Vicars of the wounded being transported from the field of Inkermann.

May 2005 will see the 200th anniversary of Seacole’s birth, with Mary Seacole Week, which will feature an exhibition at the museum in collaboration with the Black Cultural Archives. Guy’s & St. Thomas’ Hospital Foundation Trust will be leading the national Mary Seacole bicentenary celebrations throughout the NHS.

"May will see lots of activities, lectures, study days, dinners and special events that should spark an interest in health,” explained Rudi Page, project manager for Seacole’s bicentenary anniversary celebrations.

As well as giving us a better understanding of who Florence Nightingale really was, the new exhibition and forthcoming events propose to help raise awareness of nursing and healthcare and to provide insights into the lives, responsibilities and duties of nurses 150 years ago.

Unless otherwise stated all images are courtesy of the Florence Nightingale Museum.

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