When Florence Nightingale set about changing the style of nursing it was not a profession it was employment that attracted the likes of the Dickensian character Sarah Gamp. It was certainly not a path for young ladies like Florence herself or those that came after her, such as Emily. It did not happen for her overnight in fact it took until she was well over thirty and the horrors of the Crimean War for her to fulfill a destiny that was ‘a calling from God’.
Nurse Nightingale, was born in the Italian city, Florence, which she is named after in May 1820. Her family were wealthy and well connected enjoying many privileges such as a two houses one for the summer months and the other for wintering. Her education was administered by her father, who taught her and her older sister, Frances Parthenope (after the Italian city she was born in) many subjects that would not have been imparted in traditional education. We do not know about her sister but young Florence had no interest in the more ladylike activities of home making and needlework. She was more drawn to what was considered in the day as masculine pursuits of reading philosophy. It was not masculine or feminine pursuits that inspired Florence to realise her destiny it was a divine calling.
In her teens Florence felt that God had called her forth to help alleviate human suffering. To her this took on the form of caring for the sick. She may not have known what form that would take, but as a devout Unitarian she trusted the calling of the divine. As nursing was not a profession or indeed a job as such it must have perturbed her greatly. She persisted even if her parents were less than pleased at her proposed path in life. Even if her education was at the time ‘liberal’, society still expected a girl from her background to marry well.
Her father relented and permitted her to attend a school in Germany which taught basic nursing skills for a short time in 1850. She returned in 1851 for further training, increasing her skill base to correct patient observation and hospital management. From there she traveled to Paris, where she spent time training with the Sisters of Mercy. The order was founded by the Venerable Catherine McAuley, an Irishwoman, who like Florence had a calling to help the sick and poor.
In 1831 Catherine founded the Sisters of Mercy, a Religious Congregation largely involved in the care of the poor, the sick and educationally disadvantaged. In the early days, her work was mostly among the people of Dublin, but in time the Congregation spread and became one of the largest Congregations of women, not alone in Ireland, but in the world.http://sistersofmercy.ie/catherine-mcauley/