Florence Nightingale came from a wealthy English family and received a classical education in languages, history, and mathematics from her father. Much to her parents’ dismay, she rejected several marriage proposals and was determined to become a nurse, a profession that was held in low esteem by the upper classes in the 19th century.
With an annual income from her father, she traveled to Egypt and elsewhere. In Germany she studied new health care practices. Returning to England, Nightingale became superintendent at a Harley Street hospital for women in 1853.
After she learned about the deplorable lack of health care for the soldiers in the Crimean War, Nightingale traveled to Scutari (in present-day Turkey), where, in spite of considerable prejudice against women working in the field, she and her assistants worked tirelessly to improve sanitary conditions and hygiene. As a result, mortality rates dropped from over 40 percent to around 2 percent.
Because she carried an oil lamp while caring for the wounded at night, Nightingale became known as the lady with the lamp. After the war, Nightingale used her considerable skills in the mathematical field of statistics to improve health care in general; she funded a training school for nursing in London as well and wrote a detailed report providing recommendations on health care in the army.
Nightingale was bedridden, perhaps with a psychosomatic illness, for the last years of her life and died in 1910. She received numerous awards for her work in the field of health care. Clara Barton and others followed her example by volunteering as nurses during the U.S. Civil War. Nightingale was perhaps the most famous woman, after the queen, in Victorian England.