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STEM Celebrity Spotlight: Florence Nightingale

By Anna Khan

Florence Nightingale was born into a highly respected upper middle-class bourgeois family on May 12, 1820. Her family had inherited large estates when she was young and were able to provide her with a more advanced and classic education. This is where she discovered her skills in language, math, and medicine. She was also very interested in religion and philosophy due to being raised hearing about politics from her father.

Due to what Nightingale believed to be a calling from God, she became very interested in modern issues. Her parents, unfortunately, disapproved of most of her ventures to use her talents to help society. This was largely due to societal pressures. She wanted to be a mathematician but it was agreed this was not a suitable career for a woman. Her main vocation, however, was nursing. Nursing was not a well-respected profession. It was a job that primarily went to lower-class women and was not taken seriously. This is because there was little existing science that allowed nurses to actually be of use to the patients, so all they could do was keep them comfortable.

Fortunately, Florence Nightingale didn’t let this stop her. While traveling with friends, Nightingale took the opportunity to study different hospital systems in Europe. She then trained as a nurse at the Lutheran Hospital of Pastor Fliedner in Kaiserwerth, Germany. After finishing her education she returned to England only briefly before the Crimean War began.

During her time in England. Nightingale gained a reputation as a highly capable nurse. At Middlesex Hospital, Nightingale revolutionized nursing by using statistical analysis and new hygiene practices to lower the hospital's death rate during a cholera outbreak. This led her to be called to organize a team of nurses to help with the war in Turkey. The hospital in Constantinople was overpopulated and unsanitary. The doctors working at these hospitals did not want help from nursing and did not believe women would be helpful to the cause. Florence Nightingale and her team of 38 nurses worked as hard as they could to prove them wrong and help the soldiers in the hospital.

Many of the innovations developed during the Crimean War were tested and taken down in observational journals. This data was used to discover even more ways of protecting patients from dying unnecessarily due to infection. These discoveries were given to England to be published in the official report of the Crimean war. They were also documented in Nightingale's personal publication, Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency, and Hospital Administration of the British Army which was published two years after the war ended.

During the war, Nightingale caught Crimean Fever which left her bedridden for the remainder of her life. She won the Royal Red Cross in 1883 and the Order of Merit in 1907 for all of her amazing work in statistics and nursing. She passed away three years later, in 1910.

Works Cited

Hedley, Alison. “Florence Nightingale and Victorian Data Visualisation.” Significance, vol. 17,

no. 2, Apr. 2020, pp. 26–30, Editors. “Florence Nightingale.” HISTORY, 9 Mar. 2022,


Horsley, Keith. “Florence Nightingale.”, 2010,


O’Connor, J. J., and E. F. Robertson. “Florence Nightingale - Biography.” Maths History, Oct.


Riddle, Larry. “Florence Nightingale’s Polar-Area Diagram.”, 12

Jan. 2022,

The National Archives. “1834 Poor Law.”, vol. 1, no. 1, 2019,

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