• Imagining History

Florence Nightingale: Life & Legacy - a Guide for Kids


An image of Florence Nightingale by Goodman

Florence Nightingale, often known as “The Lady With The Lamp”, is considered to be the founder of modern nursing. But how did she get this title and why is she so famous?


Early Life


Florence was born on the 12th May 1820 while her parents were on their honeymoon in Italy. They named her after the Italian city she was born in - Florence. Florence was born into a rich family because her father was a wealthy banker.


In the time that Florence was a child, girls didn't go to school. But her father thought it was important for his children to learn, so he taught Florence and her elder sister, Frances Parenthope, at home. He gave them lessons in science, history, maths, philosophy and languages like Latin.


A Dog And A Dream


Around the age of 17, Florence treated her first patient – a sheepdog called Cap. Cap had been cruelly injured by some village boys who had thrown stones at him. When Cap’s owner, a Shepherd called Roger, told Florence about the dog, she knew she had to help in any way she could.


With the help of a local clergyman, Florence discovered the dog’s leg was just badly bruised, not broken as Roger has suspected. Florence applied warm flannel compresses to Cap’s leg on a daily basis until he recovered from his injury.


Around the same time, Florence believed she heard the voice of god telling her that she had an important mission. She believed this mission was to become a nurse.


"The Lady With The Lamp" shown in the Illustrated London News

Becoming A Nurse


Sadly, when Florence told her parents of her dream to become a nurse, they didn’t support her. At this time, women from wealthy families, like Florence, were expected to marry well and look after the home. Florence’s parents didn’t expect her to work and they definitely didn’t want her to be a nurse. Hospitals in Florence’s era were filthy places, where people often died and nurses were usually untrained and unskilled.


But Florence didn’t give up, and after years of asking, her father gave her permission to be a nurse. In 1851, Florence went to study nursing at the Institute of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserwerth, Germany.


It didn’t take long before Florence was a working nurse. When she returned to Britain in 1853, she was offered the lead nursing role at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen, a women’s hospital in London.


Florence receiving wounded at Scutari hospital. Can you spot her in the crowd?

The Crimean War

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In 1853, Britain joined forces with France, Sardinia and Turkey in a war against Russia. British soldiers went to fight in Crimea, in Russia.


There was very little medical help for the British army at the start of the war and the soldiers weren’t just dying from battle wounds but from the cold and hunger too. Florence was doing such great nursing work in London at the time that she was asked to take a team of 38 nurses to help the British soldiers.


Scutari Hospital on Arrival. Courtesy Wellcome Collection gallery.

Scutari Hospital Before Florence


Florence and her 38 nurses went to an army hospital in Scutari, Turkey. The hospital was dirty and in a terrible condition. It was over-crowded and injured soldiers had to sleep on the dirty floor with no blankets to keep them warm. There wasn’t enough medicine or food for the patients or enough Doctors to care for them. Lots of the injured soldiers were dying.


The Scutari hospital made better. Courtesy of Wellcome Collection gallery

Scutari Hospital After Florence


At first the Army Doctors didn’t want Florence and her nurses to help. Florence knew that she had to do a very good job to impress them. Florence cleaned the hospital and set up a hospital kitchen to give food to the patients. She paid for medicine and food and gave blankets and beds to the injured soldiers. Less patients died after Florence made the hospital a better place.


The Lady With The Lamp

Courtesy of Wellcome Collection gallery

Florence continued to care for the injured soldiers even during the night. She walked around the hospital with a lamp, comforting patients in distress and treating patients in pain.


The injured soldiers were so grateful for her care that they started calling her “The Lady With The Lamp”. They wrote home to their friends and family telling them all about Florence and she soon became very famous.


Life After The War


When Florence returned home after the war, she was so famous that she was invited to visit Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. She used the visit as an opportunity to do good and asked Queen Victoria to make changes to the conditions of army medical facilities.


Florence had been inspired by her work in Scutari and she continued to improve the conditions in hospitals and the working conditions of nurses for the rest of her life.


Florence with her trainee nurses at the Nightingale Training School

Florence’s Legacy


Florence wrote over 200 books and reports about how hospitals should be run. One of her most famous books was Notes on Nursing: What it is and What it is Not, explaining the basic skills of nursing.


Florence also set up the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas' Hospital so nurses could train. Florence’s hospital and training made nursing a respectable job.


Florence’s influence extended beyond Britain. She trained Linda Richards, the first trained nurse in America and improved medical conditions in India.


Florence changed nursing for the better and did it despite having chronic illnesses that kept her confined to her bed for most of her life. She was even the first woman to be given the Order of Merit from Queen Victoria at the age of 87.


Two years after Florence’s death in 1910, the International Red Cross established the Florence Nightingale Medal. This medal is the highest honour that can be given to a nurse and is awarded in Florence’s name.



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Further Reading:

We found the following books very handy in researching this article. If you'd like to learn more about Florence Nightingale then they're well worth a look.


For Adults:

Notes on Nursing - What It Is and What It Is Not by Florence Nightingale


Why we like it:

This book is written by Florence Nightingale herself. It is one of her most famous books, and describes the curriculum that her trainee nurses learned at the Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas' Hospital.






For Children:

Fact Cat: Florence Nightingale by Izzy Howell


Why we like it:

This book is a great introduction to Florence Nightingale and her work during the Crimean War. It even comes with a fun quiz so you can practice what you've learned! Ideal for ages 5-7.






For Children:

DK Life Stories Florence Nightingale by Kitson Jazynka


Why We Like It:

This book contains a more in-depth look into Florence's life and achievements. It is a great biography spanning her entire life including fun graphics, diagrams and more. Ideal for ages 7-11.






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