last meeting of the summer programme in June saw a return of one of our
most popular speakers Canon Ann Hemsworth. Ann seems to have a fund of
talks about formidable ladies and there are few more formidable than the
subject of last night's talk, Florence Nightingale. Ann began her talk
by claiming to also be a formidable lady. And when one considers all the
activities she is involved in, ranging from the guide movement to church
duties this cannot be denied.
The illustrated talk she delivered was a snapshot of the life of Florence
Nightingale universally known as "The Lady with the Lamp". She
was born in Florence, hence the choice of name, on the 12th of May 1820
whilst her parents Fanny and William Nightingale were enjoying their two
year honeymoon in Europe. The family she was born into were wealthy socialites,
and Florence and her sister knew an upbringing of privilege and plenty.
However Florence, a deeply religious woman knew, much to her mother's
chagrin, that this was not the life for her, and indeed always felt she
had been called by God to perform some great work. This is what led her
to decide to become a nurse at the time when this calling could not be
graced with the title 'profession' and was the prerogative of the lower
Having trained in various hospitals in Europe she was eventually asked
by Sidney Herbert to go to Scutari to help nurse the wounded soldiers
from the Crimean War. On 21 October 1854, with a staff of 38 women volunteer
nurses, trained by herself, she arrived at the military hospital at Scutari
to be met with hostility by both doctors and military personnel. The insanitary
conditions where the soldiers were being nursed, meant they were seven
times more likely to die of disease in the hospital, rather than wounds
received on the battlefield.
After being at first refused permission to work on the wards, conditions
became so bad that the male authorities relented and allowed her and her
staff into the hospital. She immediately introduced better levels of hygiene
on the wards, and paid for fresh water, fruit, vegetables and equipment
out of her own funds. Just by improving the sanitary conditions themselves,
she drastically reduced mortality rates in the hospital. It was her inspirational
devotion to duty and compassion though, which gave comfort and hope to
the wounded, often working throughout the night.
The hardship that Florence endured during the Crimean War however, did
not come without cost. In 1856 she returned to England as an invalid and
remained bedridden to the end of her life. But her work had not gone unrecognised.
She was awarded many accolades such as Fellow of the Royal Statistical
Society, and the Order of Merit. Despite her health problems, in 1860
she founded the Nightingale Training School and Home for Nurses at St
Thomas's Hospital London. She died in 1910 at the age of ninety.
As always Ann managed to tell us details of her subject's life that we
were not aware of. For example we did not know about how Florence had
a great love of mathematics and statistics, which she put to such good
use in her career. Nor that her work inspired Swiss businessman Henry
Dumant to found that great humanitarian organisation The Red Cross. This
insightful look at Florence's life was greatly enjoyed by the audience
and proved to be a fitting end to our summer programme.
The next meeting on Monday 26th September will be an illustrated
talk by Dr George Ingle on Yorkshire Dales Woollen Mills.