Florence Nightingale was a pioneer for Victorian women, rejecting the expectation that she would look after the home and a family. Instead, she travelled to the Crimea and changed the face of nursing to such an extent that that legacy of the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ lives on. A museum to her life and achievements is hidden away underneath St. Thomas’ Hospital in London.
Tucked unobtrusively behind St Thomas’s Hospital in London, on the very spot where Florence Nightingale founded her nursing school, is the Florence Nightingale Museum. This small but informative museum is well worth the effort, plunging the visitor back into the horrors of Victorian medicine, and reinforcing our thankfulness for those pioneers like Florence Nightingale who have enabled us to live in an age when entering hospital is no longer an automatic death warrant.
The museum is divided into three areas – first, Florence’s early life and her struggle to become a nurse, second, her role in the Crimean War and, finally, her legacy to medicine, her influence on nursing today and the continuing significance of her work.
The first area looks at her early life, the ‘gilded cage’ she was born into in 1820, being named after her birthplace in Italy where her parents were enjoying an extended honeymoon. The Nightingales were wealthy and well connected members of the upper middle class, interested in the sciences, arts and helping the poor. Upper class women had little life and no independence, with the legal status of children and belonging firmly in the home.