By Sue Hassmiller, PhD, RN, FAAN (6th in a series of posts by Hassmiller, who’s spending her summer vacation retracing crucial steps in Florence Nightingale’s innovative career)
Florence Nightingale said, “we don’t as much need to know, but need to do.” She felt that Embley Park was isolating, and her wealth often a distraction, but she also managed to use her privileged position to her advantage. She couldn’t wait for the clock to strike 10 every night so she could privately and without interruption get to her studies—so that, later, she’d be ready “to do.” And her wealth opened up connections that would serve as a worthy network for her entire life.
Sidney Herbert, perhaps her most important friend and influencer (outside of her father), was part of that network. The son of an earl, a member of Parliament, and Secretary at War when the Crimean War erupted, it was on his orders that Florence Nightingale gained permission to take a group of nurses to Scutari Hospital in Turkey. He was her confidant and supporter while she was there and for many years afterward, in all she wanted to accomplish.
When the war ended, she pushed Sidney for changes in the military system and for hospital reformation, including how soldiers were cared for and how their families were treated. Because she was a woman and Sidney was a man, she needed to work through him . . . especially as he became Director of the War Commission. She pushed him constantly and never let up. He died an early death in his 50s and Ms. Nightingale was furious with him for leaving her when there was so much work left to do. In fact, his last words were “poor Florence, poor Florence; our joint work not yet done.” The house in the photo was his estate, with dedications to Florence throughout.
Ms. Nightingale was driven to make life better for those less fortunate than she, and she used many people in her vast network to get her work done—including Queen Victoria, military officers, family members, politicians, physicians, nurses, and of course those in the newspaper business. Although she is given singular credit for so much, she could not have done it without Sidney and the rest of her network.
In this “International Year of the Nurse,” celebrated on the 100th anniversary of Ms. Nightingale’s death, have you considered what you will do to change the face of health care—and who in your network will be most important as you strive to make those changes?