A Weekend With Florence In London

Editor’s note: The two entries below, written on Saturday and Sunday in London, are the latest in a series of posts by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Senior Adviser for Nursing, Susan Hassmiller, who’s spending her summer vacation retracing the footsteps of Florence Nightingale and reflecting on the implications of Nightingale’s work for nurses today.

Saturday: Westminster Abbey (London)

I arrived in London for my vacation today. They tell me it is uncharacteristically hot (nearly 90 degrees), so that gave me full license to have ice cream . . . not once, but twice! And although the “official” Florence Nightingale tour hasn’t started, I didn’t waste time getting a head start on my quest to better understand the contributions of Ms. Nightingale.

After renting a car from Performanceportfolio-se.co.uk, I spent considerable time at Westminster Abbey—yes, the same church where Princess Diana’s funeral took place—and was inspired to learn that there is a Nurses’ Chapel there, dedicated to the more than 3,000 nurses from Britain and the Commonwealth who died in the Second World War. As of May 12 of this year, which was the anniversary of Ms. Nightingale’s birth, the Nurses’ Chapel was rededicated in her name.

The chapel is kept locked, but in response to my pleading the elderly docent unlocked the door so that I could take my own personal tour. He said he liked nurses (what else is new?) and was happy that he could please one, since he had been cared for many times by wonderful nurses. The chapel was small and simple, but the stained glass window (pictured above) and the plaque of dedication touched me to the core.

Sunday: Three Extraordinary Women

If anyone ever again accuses me of being too passionate about nursing, I will know they haven’t met three extraordinary women: Louise Selanders, international Florence Nightingale scholar (and a nurse); Ann Keen, former Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for the National Health Service; and Anne Marie Rafferty, dean of the King’s College Florence Nightingale School of Nursing. They are passionate, and oh, so smart, and doing so much good for the UK!

With Ann Keen, left, in London

Ann and Anne Marie recently finished the UK’s Future of Nursing and Midwifery Report and it is now in the hands of the government. This is not the same government that commissioned the report . . . so yes, this complicates matters a bit. I asked Anne Marie what she most hoped would come out of the report and she mentioned transition to practice (the opportunity for every nurse to have a residency program). And, of course, they both want a smooth transition for all nurses to have a baccalaureate degree. They believe this should be mandatory for entry to practice.

Louise Selanders led a morning seminar on the life and times of Florence Nightingale. Following are a few facts that particularly struck me:

1. When Florence Nightingale was a young woman, the Victorian philosophy of the day was:  “The husband and wife are one, and that one is the husband.” This led Ms. Nightingale to never marry, as she disagreed vehemently with this notion! My husband, Bob, who is accompanying me on this tour, and attending some of the sessions, laughed out loud at this one, telling the class that he now understood my passion for the woman!

2. Florence Nightingale struggled with religion her entire life. She was very pious and believed that nursing was her calling, but the Anglican Church was very strict and she couldn’t live within those bounds. For a time she followed Unitarianism because that was the only religion of the day that condoned education for women.

3. A newspaper reporter who was reporting on the atrocities of the Crimean War—via the newly discovered telegraph machine—provoked Queen Victoria’s outrage, which led to the head of the War Department (who was a personal friend of Florence Nightingale) asking her to find solutions to the mortality rate of more than 60% among soldiers.

4. Nightingale brought the mortality rate down to 2% in just months.

5. An avid researcher and statistician, Nightingale developed the “coxcomb,” which is a kind of pie chart. With it, she was able to show that almost all soldiers who died in the Crimean War died of infectious disease; very few actually died from their wounds; and others died of suicide (from the conditions that they had to live in, including their pain).

6. Florence Nightingale is a saint in Anglican churches throughout the world—but only recently became so in the United States, since many here thought that she’d died of syphilis.  This is false, but it took a great deal of research by nurse scholars and others to convince the U.S. Anglican church otherwise. In 2000, she finally received sainthood in America

7. So she was all of this, and more . . . including her known roles as a nurse, administrator, applied statistican, women’s advocate, educational innovator, sanitarian, social reformer, political activist, and futurist.

And for those of you who love the television show Jeopardy, her name is the most frequent correct answer cited on the show. And did I mention she had 22 cats? That’s where Florence Nightingale and I part ways. I am definitely a dog person!

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2017-04-29T17:29:33+00:00 July 12th, 2010|nursing history, nursing research|5 Comments

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  1. jm October 4, 2010 at 8:33 am

    Helen, thanks for pointing out that Princess Diana was not married in Westminster Abbey but in St. Paul’s Cathedral. In fact, her funeral took place at Westminster Abbey. We’ve made the correction.
    –The Editors

  2. Helen October 2, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    I enjoyed reading of your London trip. I enjoyed my visit to London and was moved by the Florence N. museum. But,Diana Spencer was married at St. Paul’s Cathedral, not West Minster Abbey.

  3. Wendy Doremus September 28, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    I would love to see a journey of this sort developed into a semester abroad course for nursing and public health students!

  4. lori July 14, 2010 at 9:25 am

    according to the web:
    Florence Nightingale produced the original Diagram of the Causes of Mortality in the Army in the East in late 1858. It showed that most of the British soldiers who died during the Crimean War died of sickness rather than of wounds or other causes. It also showed that the death rate was higher in the first year of the war (right half of diagram), before the Sanitary Commissioners arrived in March 1855 to improve hygiene in the camps and hospitals.

    This diagram is now usually referred to as the “coxcomb”, which is historically incorrect because the diagram did not even exist when Florence Nightingale used that word to describe something quite different!

  5. lori July 14, 2010 at 9:23 am

    im inspired to figure out what a coxcomb is.

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