July 11, 2010
Having worked at Vancouver General Hospital and Woodlands Hospital as a medical Social Worker, I have met many impressive nurses in my life. Recently a nurse lent me a book about the life of Florence Nightingale, the mother of modern nursing. I was astounded by the pervasive lasting impact of Florence’s life. Florence was a one-woman dynamo. Nothing stood in her way. No inefficiency, no corruption, no bureaucracy could ultimately stop her from bringing healing to countless suffering people, particularly those impacted by war. While Florence was a caring individual, she was no ‘pushover’, but rather a brilliant, strong-minded professional, a gifted organizer and statistician. Florence was without a doubt one of the most influential women in the 19th century.
Florence Nightingale is someone who we can all learn from. I am concerned that cultural amnesia may rob us as Canadians of her inspiring story. While her story is still taught in British and South African schools, it is not to be found in the BC public School Curriculum. Is this not a good time to reconsider Florence’s remarkable ongoing influence?
Florence Nightingale was baptized in the Church of England as an infant in Florence, Italy, where she was born in 1820. As a child, Florence was very close to her anti-slavery lobbyist father who, without a son, treated her as his friend and companion. Her father, William Nightingale, a wealthy English landowner, took responsibility for her education and personally taught her Greek, Latin, French, German, Italian, history, philosophy and mathematics.
As a teenager, Florence was converted to Jesus Christ, writing in her diary: ‘God spoke to me and called me to His service’. But sixteen years were to pass before her life changed to one of service. Looking back years later, Florence commented: “the ‘Cornerstone’ book which converted me in 1836 –alas! That I should so little have lived up to my conversion.” In her ‘Spiritual Journey’ Journal, Florence wrote: ‘O God, the Father of an infinite Majesty, give me Thy Holy Spirit twenty times a day to convince me of sin, of righteousness, above all to give me love, a real individual love for everyone.’
Florence’s mother, Fanny Nightingale was a domineering woman primarily concerned with finding her daughter a good husband. She was therefore upset by Florence’s decision to reject offer of marriage by several suitors, including the well-connected Lord Houghton. At age of twenty-five, Florence told her parents she wanted to become a nurse. Her parents were totally opposed to the idea, as nursing was associated with alcoholism and prostitution.
In 1851, thirty-one year-old Florence spent three months nursing at the Deaconess Institution at Kaiserswerth, Germany. Upon returning to her family in England, Florence said: ‘I was treated as if I had come from committing a crime’. When in 1853 Florence became a Nursing Superintendent in London, her parents wailed, wept, and refused to eat.
In 1854, Florence Nightingale took 38 “handmaidens of the Lord.” (as she called them) to nurse wounded British soldiers in the Crimean War. This was the first time the government had allowed women to do this. Almost all modern nursing systems and techniques we know today can be traced back to her. According to some reports, Florence suffered from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) for the rest of her life.
The Crimean War was, Florence wrote, ‘calamity unparalleled in the history of calamity’. She became famous as ‘The Lady with the Lamp’. The wounded along the four miles of beds loved to see her, because she so obviously cared what was happening, and fought for better conditions for them. One soldier wrote home that the men kissed her shadow on the wall when she passed.
Conditions in this so-called hospital in Scutari, Turkey, were appalling. No operating tables. No medical supplies. No furniture. The lack of beds, for example, meant that the best the wounded soldiers could hope for was to be laid on the floor wrapped in a blanket. Rats ran amongst the dying. On occasion, even dead bodies were forgotten about and left to rot. There had been no washing of linen – and every shirt was crawling with vermin. Florence ordered boilers – and boilers were installed. Florence was able to demonstrate that for every soldier killed in battle in the Crimean War, seven died of infections and preventable disease. Better food, cleanliness and good sanitation could prevent disease and death.
Florence was exhausted, the life drained out of her by her struggles in the Crimea. She was only thirty-six, but she felt her work must surely be over. In fact she had nearly forty years of active working life ahead of her. Although bedridden and unable to walk, she still campaigned tirelessly to improve health standards, publishing over 200 books, reports and pamphlets. Her book ‘Notes on Nursing’ popularly ranked as one of the two most important scientific books of the 19th century. One of the keys to Florence Nightingale’s success in improving health conditions was that she took numerous notes on aspects of health care and organized this information in order to analyze it, draw conclusions, and make appropriate changes. In her notes, she used graphical displays of information similar to what are now known as pie charts. She was recognized for her skill in interpreting large amounts of data and standardizing information such as the classification of disease so that different hospitals could compare their findings. As a result, Florence was the first woman to be elected a fellow of the Statistical Society and given the British Order of Merit.
In September 1856 Florence Nightingale received an invitation to visit Queen Victoria. Upon meeting, Queen Victoria complimented Florence, saying: “You have no self-importance or humbug. No wonder the soldiers love you so.” Queen Victoria never lost her awe of Florence Nightingale. To her, Florence was the bravest, most independent woman in the British Empire.
For Florence Nightingale, Jesus Christ was “the most important person that ever lived.” She kept a picture of Christ, crowned with thorns, in her bedroom. The call to relieve suffering was such, said Florence, that we “dishonour Christ when we do not do our best to relieve suffering, even in the meanest creature. Kindness to sick man, woman and child came in with Christ.”
In her journal, Florence recorded these thoughts: “Personal union with Jesus Christ; without this we are nothing. Father, give me this personal union. Come in, Lord Jesus, come into my heart now. There is no room. Each day more and more of this new year, 1895, and may it be a better and a happier year than any before. So help me/us God!”
Let us give thanks for the life and work of Florence Nightingale, pioneer nurse and handmaid of the Lord who has brought health and healing for countless millions.
The Reverend Ed Hird, Rector
St. Simon’s Church North Vancouver
Anglican Mission in the Americas (Canada)
-previously published in the North Shore News
-award-winning author of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’
p.s. In order to obtain a copy of the book ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’, please send a $18.50 cheque to ‘Ed Hird’, #1008-555 West 28th Street, North Vancouver, BC V7N 2J7. For mailing the book to the USA, please send $20.00 USD. This can also be done by PAYPAL using the e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org . Be sure to list your mailing address. The Battle for the Soul of Canada e-book can be obtained for $9.99 CDN/USD.
-Click to download a complimentary PDF copy of the Battle for the Soul study guide : Seeking God’s Solution for a Spirit-Filled Canada
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June 6, 2010
Everyone nowadays loves the Sally Ann, the Salvation Army. But such admiration was not always universal. Violence and bloodshed was the order of the day when General William Booth first reached out to the down-and-out in East London. Few people today realize that one of the main purposes of the famous Sally Ann Bonnet was to protect the heads of wearers from brickbats and other missiles. So many people used to buy rotten eggs to throw at the Sally Ann Bonnets that these rancid eggs became renamed in the market place as ‘Salvation Army eggs!’
In 1880,heavy sticks crashed upon the Salvation Army soldiers’ heads, laying them open, and saturating them in blood. Mrs. Bryan (wife of the Captain) was knocked down and kicked into insensibility not ten yards from the police station, and another sister so injured that she died within a week. During 1882, it was reported that 669 soldiers and officers had been knocked down, kicked or otherwise brutally assaulted, 251 of them being women and 23 children under 15. In Hamilton, Ontario, the Salvation Army officers were initially ‘squeezed and mangled, scratched, their clothes torn and almost choked with the dust…’ In Quebec City, 21 soldiers were seriously injured, an officer was stabbed in the head with a knife, and the drummer had his eye gouged out. In Newfoundland, the Salvation Army was attacked with hatchets, knives, scissors and darning needles. One night a woman-Salvationist in Newfoundland was attacked by a gang of three hundred ruffians, thrown into a ditch and trampled on. She managed to crawl out only to be thrown in again, as other women were shouting ‘Kill her! Kill her!
Ironically many police initially blamed the Salvation Army for being persecuted. In numerous parts of England, playing in a Salvation Army Marching Band was punishable with a jail sentence! During 1884, no fewer than 600 Salvationists had gone to prison in defense of their right to proclaim good news to the people in music and word. In Canada alone, nearly 350 SA officers and soldiers served terms of imprisonment for spreading the gospel. Despite the jail sentences and persecution, within three years the Army’s strength more than quadrupled! The early Salvation Army ‘jailbirds described their handcuffs as heavenly bracelets. It is little wonder that the Salvation Army eventually developed such a powerful prison ministry.
One of William Booth’s mottoes was ‘go for souls and go for the worst!’ A local English newspaper The Echo commented that the Salvation Army largely recruited the ranks of the drunkards and wife-beaters and woman home-destroyers. Many of us remember as children the song: ‘Up and down the City Road, In and Out the Eagle; That’s the way the money goes, Pop goes the weasel’! Few of us realized that we were singing about the famous Eagle Tavern, just off City Road in London. ‘Pop goes the weasel’ was cockney slang for the alcoholic who was so desperate for a drink that he would even pawn (pop) his watch (weasel). Ironically, the Salvation Army bought the Eagle Tavern and turned it into a rehabilitation centre. The Lion and Key public house in East London became known as ‘The Army Recruiting Shop’. The landlord said, ‘My trade’s suffering, but you’re making the town a different place, so we can’t grumble. Go on and prosper!’
William Booth shocked the world by conducting worship with tambourines and fiddles, instead of the traditional church organ. To make up for the Salvation Army’s lack of church buildings, General Booth bought circus buildings, skating rinks, and theatres.