Saturday, May 28, 2011
Dear Florence Nightingale,
For the last few decades I thought you were a floozy.
When I was in Nursing School, there was a rumor going around school that you had been a "loose woman". The rumor was about how you had "given your all to the soldiers in the Crimean War, and died of syphilis soon after the War".
I think the rumor started when our nursing class was identified as the first graduating class who didn’t have to carry the Florence Nightingale Lantern as part of the graduation procession. All previous graduating nurses had to march in their crisp blue dresses with a white pinafore apron, along with shiny white shoes, elastic white nylon stockings, and a white-winged nursing cap. Each person also had to carry a lantern and sing a hymnal while walking in a procession. This was part of the traditional nursing graduation ceremony, in part, to honor you Florence, who was seen as the mother of our profession.
Our graduating nursing class would become the first to waive away this tradition. We would now became modern and could be just like the other college graduates, wearing a black graduate robe and cap with tassels. Nursing's history would slowly become buried as we moved into the modern era to be just like every other college graduate. To help us bury the past, an easy way to do this was to find ways to set us a part from the rest and put us in positions of strength, power, or wisdom. I assume this is why the rumors were started and spread like a wild fire in our class.
But it wasn't until just recently I learned that you didn’t die of syphilis at all. You lived until you were 90 years of age, dying in your sleep. This hardly sounds like syphilis taking the life of a young fertile female. How silly to never even once consider this rumor could be false.
So dear Florence, I now see more of who you were. It was you who recognized the value in cleanliness and how it could reduce the spread of infection. You also recognized there was an art to healing which included listening, touch, as well as comfort. You were ahead of your time in many ways and really did help us begin a profession on solid ground.
So, thanks, Florence. I appreciate you paving the way for nursing to be a profession. You were instrumental in the idea of cleanliness being a part of the curriculum and it has now become a standard part of every health practitioners practice. You also introduced the concept of touch having value and part of the healing process.
You helped many learn to become caretakers of health.