This Day in History – October 21st, 1854

The Crimean War began in October 1853 over disputes about the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land, which was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. The conflict was between Russia and an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire, and Sardinia. The French promoted the rights of Catholics, while Russia promoted those of the Orthodox Christians.

Crimean War

The Crimean War was one of the first conflicts to use modern technologies such as explosive naval shells, railways and telegraphs. The war was one of the first to be documented extensively in written reports and photographs. As the legend of the “Charge of the Light Brigade” demonstrates, the war quickly became an iconic symbol of logistical, medical and tactical failures and mismanagement. The reaction in Britain was a demand for professionalization, most famously achieved by Florence Nightingale, who gained worldwide attention for pioneering modern nursing while treating the wounded. On this day in 1854, Florence Nightingale and a staff of 38 nurses were dispatched to the Crimean War.

florence

Florence Nightingale is generally considered to be the founder of modern nursing. Nightingale arrived early in November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari (modern-day Üsküdar in Istanbul). Her team found that poor care for wounded soldiers was being delivered by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference. Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected, and mass infections were common, many of them fatal. There was no equipment to process food for the patients.

Florence_Nightingale_by_Kilburn_c1854After Nightingale sent a plea to The Times for a government solution to the poor condition of the facilities, the British Government commissioned Isambard Kingdom Brunel to design a prefabricated hospital that could be built in England and shipped to the Dardanelles. The result was Renkioi Hospital, a civilian facility which, under the management of Dr. Edmund Alexander Parkes, had a death rate less than 1/10th that of Scutari.

After the war, Nightingale returned to England and used her recent fame and support to to set up the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital on 9 July 1860. The first trained Nightingale nurses began work on 16 May 1865 at the Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary. Now called the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, the school is part of King’s College London. She also campaigned and raised funds for the Royal Buckinghamshire Hospital in Aylesbury near her sister’s home, Claydon House.

During the Crimean war, Florence Nightingale gained the nickname “The Lady with the Lamp” from a phrase in a report in The Times:

She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow’s face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.

florence-nightingale-lamp2

The phrase was further popularised by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s 1857 poem “Santa Filomena (poem)“:

Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see
Pass through the glimmering gloom,

And flit from room to room.

Flourish 3

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