By Sue Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN (5th in a series of posts by Hassmiller, who’s spending her summer vacation retracing crucial steps in Florence Nightingale’s innovative career)
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever be at the home of Florence Nightingale. But here I am, not only visiting her family’s estate, Embley Park, but sleeping here for the next four days. If I were a prolific writer, I could perhaps find the words to describe what I am feeling right now, the great privilege it is to be here . . .
Embley Park is now called Hampshire Collegiate. It is a coed, very expensive private school that is home to more than 900 students. The upper rooms of this sprawling country estate are largely dormitory rooms. Most country estates in this area, near Romsey, England, have been demolished because there is no longer the wealth or the interest to keep them up. But Embley Park has been maintained. It dates back to around 1082, and many of us hope it will live on forever.
It is overwhelming to know what Florence Nightingale accomplished and then to be in the library where she learned math and studied architecture; in the drawing room where her mother tried to get her to do “womanly” tasks; in the bedroom where she hid her studies of hospital morbidity and mortality from her family and fretted over inequities and social injustices; and to sit under the tree where God gave her a greater calling: nursing.
Around the corner in the parlor, I can almost hear Florence begging her parents for the right to be a nurse, because she would never go directly against their wishes—even when she was in her early 30s. In the hallways, I can almost hear her sister, Parthe, screaming at Florence for ruining the family name with her antics and dreams of becoming a nurse. The tensions Florence brought to this family, with her wild ideas and independent streak, were more than they could bear at times.
Finally, tonight I climbed the stairs to my bedroom. These are the same stairs where her true hero and teacher, her father, died while fetching his pocket watch one morning. What a loss that was for Florence! I cherish all the storytelling that is going on . . . and look forward to the scholars from around the world who will tell me more.
The former headmaster of this school gave a brilliant orientation to the Nightingale family and the estate tonight, saying, quite simply, “It is a historical lie to say that one person cannot change the face of history, because here in this house, history was indeed changed . . . and her name was Florence Nightingale.”
P.S. I am not staying in her bedroom, but it is right across the hall from where I am staying. And yes, I am jealous of the two people occupying that room!