Florence Nightingale's letter about "vision" which called her to nursing set for first display in public

By Sophie Beckwith | 13 January 2016

Florence Nightingale’s call to nursing detailed in a newly discovered letter

A photo of a letter written by florence nightingale
© Leeds Museums and Galleries
An unseen letter from Florence Nightingale detailing the “vision” which called her to nursing has been uncovered in a former family home in Cornwall.

A photo of a box of letters and books once owned by florence nightingale
A set of sketchbooks and letters have been discovered in this box, owned by Florence Nightingale's cousin, Marianne Galton© Leeds Museums and Galleries, courtesy William and Jennifer Copeland
The intimate note, written by Florence to her cousin Marianne, describes the revelation in detail, and is part of an exhibition taking a personal journey through the early life of the lady with the lamp.

A photo of various portrait pictures of Florence Nightingale
The collection includes numerous pictures of Florence Nightingale© Leeds Museums and Galleries
The letter is just one item among a collection of fascinating artefacts recently found in Trelissick House, once home to the eldest daughter of Florence’s cousin Marianne. Other papers and sketches illustrate young life for cousin ‘Flo’. They will be displayed in an exhibition, Our Cousin Florence, at Lotherton Hall in Leeds opening in March.

A photo of various books and letters relating to Florence Nightingale
Items relating to Victorian engineer Sir Douglas Galton, including his work on hospital design which he discussed with Florence Nightingale© Leeds Museums and Galleries, courtesy William and Jennifer Copeland
The collection illustrates a previously unknown side to Florence, with letters highlighting her struggle to leave the high society life she felt created "forced idleness". Our Cousin Florence examines the contrast of her world as a young aristocratic woman and her later wartime experiences, where she devoted herself selflessly to the care and compassion of others.

A photo of old historical pouches and sketches
The children's treasures alongside Marianne's sketches of her eldest daughter Evelyn© Leeds Museums and Galleries, courtesy William and Jennifer Copeland
Florence Nightingale’s cousin, Marianne Galton (nee Nicholson) was married to Sir Douglas Galton, a Victorian Engineer and designer for sanitary improvement. Marianne was a beloved friend of Florence and Sir Douglas became Florence’s close advisor on hospital design.

A photo of various books and letters relating to Florence Nightingale
Some of Galton's sketchbooks detailing family life and her travels© Leeds Museums and Galleries, courtesy William and Jennifer Copeland
Key fashion pieces of the period, including dresses similar to those worn by Florence and her cousins, will also go on public display, providing a stark contrast to the clothing of female nurses serving in the Crimean War.

A photo of a portrait painting of a woman in a dress posing with her daughter
Edward Hughes, Mrs Laura (Gwendolyn) Gascoigne and her son Alvary (1898)© Leeds Museums and Galleries
Lotherton Hall was the home of Marianne's youngest daughter, Gwendolen Gascoigne, and the newly-discovered archive material was found in Marianne’s correspondence box. Paintings, childhood sketches, jewellery, toys and her desk will also provide an intriguing insight into Nightingale’s family life.

  • Exhibition runs March 18 – December 31 2016.

Our Cousin Florence

  • Sketches by Florence’s sister, Parthenope, and Marianne underline their life of frippery and fun and the changes they went through as the girls grew into adulthood.

  • Sir Douglas and Marianne spent their wedding night at Florence’s home, Embley. Their honeymoon diaries will be on show, as well as letters from New Year 1897, celebrating 46 years of marriage.

  • The dresses going on display feature voluminous sleeves, often including pads or even cane cages on their upper arms and under their dresses. Between the 1830s and 1860s, the size of the skirts increased as women increasingly wore more petticoats, including ones made of horsehair.

  • A medal commemorating Florence Nightingale, in recognition of her work in the Crimean War between 1854 and 1856, will be displayed. The conflict was the first time women had been allowed to officially serve in the army, and one sketch shows Florence and her nurses disembarking from their ship at Boulogne on their way to the Crimea.

  • Florence published her books, Notes on Nursing and Notes on Hospitals, in 1859. A nursing school was founded in her name in 1860, and her work helped to establish nursing as a respectable career for women and improved hospital conditions for patients during the decades which followed.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

Three places to find out about Florence Nightingale in

Florence Nightingale Museum, London
Find out about a passionate statistician, writer, campaigner, educationalist and hospital planner whose legacy lives on into the 21st century. Original objects include personal mementos, including her pet owl Athena, prints, paintings, souvenirs from the Crimean War and symbols of nursing.

Claydon, Buckingham
This extraordinary house contains mementoes of Florence Nightingale, a relation of owners the Verney family who was a regular visitor. Look out for extravagant rococco and chinoiserie decoration, the unique Chinese Room and parquetry Grand Stairs.

National Army Museum, London
The museum’s collection spans 400 years and holds more than a million items, from a lamp used by Florence Nightingale to personal photographs taken by soldiers in the wars. Currently closed for redevelopment, check the museum website for touring exhibitions and online collections.
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