Florence Nightingale and the Red Cross

By Sue Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Senior Adviser for Nursing (this is the latest in a series of posts by Hassmiller, who’s spending her summer vacation retracing crucial steps in Florence Nightingale’s innovative career)

British Red Cross thrift store, Romsey, England

Anyone who knows me knows I am a devotee of the American Red Cross. After the Red Cross helped me find my parents after a Mexico City earthquake nearly 35 years ago, volunteering for them is how I spend my free time and my money . . . So when I travel, I always check in with the Red Cross, no matter the state, no matter the country, and tell them my story, and tell them: Thank you and keep up the good work. 

I haven’t had much time to find the Red Cross on this trip, but in Florence Nightingale’s hometown of Romsey, I ran into the British Red Cross thrift store (don’t tell my mother, but I bought her a little ceramic dog to add to her collection).

In the meantime, I was thinking about what Clara Barton, known for founding the American Red Cross, and Florence Nightingale knew of one another. Two of my heroes, living at the same time, doing similar kinds of things to change the world. Surely they must have known of one another. I have read both their biographies and neither one mentions the other, so I decided to ask some of the scholars here with me.

Barbara Dossey, a Nightingale scholar, is here, and wrote about the Red Cross in her book on Nightingale, “Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer.” She included nothing about Clara Barton, sadly, but something about Henri Dunant, the originator of the International Red Cross. Here’s a quote from Dunant, originally in the London Times, that appeared in her book: “Though I am known as the founder of the Red Cross and the originator of the Convention of Geneva, it is to an Englishwoman that all the honour of that Convention is due. What inspired me to go to Italy during the war of 1859 was the work of Miss Florence Nightingale in the Crimea.” So there’s the small connection I’d been hoping for . . .

And now, one more important connection. I saw a plaque on my way to bed on a recent night (yes, I was still staying in the room across the hall from Miss Nightingale’s, mentioned in a previous post). The plaque said: “On July 5, 1883, Florence Nightingale was the first recipient of the new Royal Red Cross Medal. Queen Victoria invited her to stay at Windsor to receive it, but Miss Nightingale was too ill to attend.”

All is well . . .  the connections are made. I went to bed knowing I have two very important women to look up to as I try to do what I can to also change the world. Thank you, Ms. Barton and Ms. Nightingale, for your inspirational leadership.

Bookmark and Share

2016-11-21T13:16:34+00:00 July 19th, 2010|Nursing, nursing history|3 Comments

About the Author:


  1. Neal Denton August 27, 2010 at 8:47 am

    I’m re-reading this again this morning…and thinking that this must have been a powerful experience for you. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could craft a floor statement for Rep. Capps to include in the Congressional Record? She could honor nursing, the Red Cross and Florence Nightengale.

  2. Michael Bleich July 20, 2010 at 11:10 am

    Sue and Bob:

    You have been inspirational in your words and I want you to know how personal this has been – it has really helped me to internalize the work of both Florence and Clara – and Bob’s connection as a veteran to the work that continues as we strive for peace internationally.

    The spirit that is evoked in your words has created a community as we travel with you. With great sincerity, I say, “Thank you for letting us travel with you.”

  3. Jennie Chin Hansen July 19, 2010 at 1:15 pm

    This is great stuff. What a moving and inspiring set of observations and pieces of information. And, I am very touched by the story of your parents and the relationship to the Red Cross. Very powerful stuff!

    Continue to share…

    All best,

Comments are moderated before approval, but always welcome.

%d bloggers like this: