Collection RBSC-ARC-1734 - Florence Nightingale collection

Title and statement of responsibility area

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Florence Nightingale collection

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  • Textual record
  • Graphic material
  • Philatelic record

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  • Variations in title: Also known as Florence Nightingale Letters collection

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Physical description

21 cm of textual records
2 cm of graphic material
.6 cm of philatelic records

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Biographical history

Florence Nightingale was born on May 12, 1820 in Florence, Italy. She came from an affluent British family of merchants. When Florence was 5 years old her father inherited two estates in England. Florence moved to England where her father provided her with a classical education. It was in the neighbouring village Florence first aided the ill and poor, and by the age of 16 she believed nursing to be her divine purpose. She told her parents of her intentions to pursue nursing; however, they forbade her to do so as they viewed nursing as menial labour below her social class.

In spite of her parent’s objections, Nightingale enrolled as a nursing student in Kaiserswerth, Germany in 1844. In the 1850s she returned to London to nurse an ailing governess in a Middlesex hospital, where she was promoted to superintendent within a year. This hospital suffered from a cholera outbreak which Nightingale was able to limit by improving the hospital’s hygiene practices.

In 1853 the Crimean War began with the British Empire combating the Russian Empire. A year later, due to major casualties as a result of unsanitary and inhumane conditions, the British Secretary of War Sidney Herbert requested Nightingale to organize a corps of nurses to be sent to Crimea. In response, Nightingale assembled over 30 nurses and sailed with them to Crimea. They arrived at Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople, where conditions were unsanitary. Nightingale promptly asked the least infirm patients to scrub the hospital from floor to ceiling. This, along with her nightly rounds of ministering to patients, reduced the hospital death rate by two-thirds. The soldiers took to calling her “the Lady with the Lamp” and “the Angel of the Crimea” due to her nightly rounds and endless compassion. Nightingale wrote an 830-page report analyzing her experience in Crimea called Notes on Matters Affecting the Health, Efficiency and Hospital Administration of the British Army. She returned to England from Crimea in 1856 once the conflict in Crimea was resolved.

After the Crimean War she was bestowed with honours including what would later be called the “Nightingale Jewel” and $250 000 from the British government, which she put towards the founding of St. Thomas’ Hospital and the Nightingale Training School for Nurses. By 1858 Florence became homebound and bedridden due to her contraction of “Crimean fever” at Scutari. This did not deter her, as she continued to consult various hospitals, including field hospitals in the U.S. Civil War, India, and Britain. Nightingale died August 13, 1910 at her home in London.

Custodial history

Substantial portion of the collection was purchased from a Bostonian antiquarian book dealer in 1966 and 1967 by the Woodward Library. The batch purchased in 1966 was partly funded in memorial to Jean McCash Fleming Moore, R.N. by her parents. The letters were transferred from Woodward Memorial Library to Rare Books and Special Collections in 2013. Parts of the collection were received as individual gifts and seven of the letters were acquired from Hugh M. Sinclair.

Scope and content

Collection contains correspondence relating to Florence Nightingale. The majority of the letters are addressed to Nightingale while others are sent from her or involve other correspondents discussing Nightingale. Letters date from 1877 to 1965. There are also newspaper clippings, transcripts, notes, and envelopes that all relate to Florence Nightingale. There are also photographs of Florence Nightingale and prominent people in her life.

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Collection is not in original order. Letters are arranged according to whether Florence Nightingale was the sender, receiver, or subject of the correspondence. They are subsequently arranged chronologically with minor exceptions.

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Online access to digitized letters:

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Associated materials

Other sites with digitized Florence Nightingale letters:

University of Illinois at Chicago:

University of Kansas, Clendening History of Medicine Library:

For a lively account of some of the purchases from this collection, see Dr. W.C. Gibson's remarks on the history of the Woodward Library Memorial Collection.

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RAD compliant finding aid prepared by: Maggie Hunter, June 2015.

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