As a child I had three heroes, Amelia Earhart, Emily Pankhurst and Florence Nightingale.
I said had however they are still women who inspire me today. Their determination to do what was right even if those around them either didn’t get it or thought they, as mere women, were not capable. Their strength in the face of adversity, even when it meant their own lives were in danger. Their vision and the way they each in their own way changed the world.
Each of them in their lives knew prejudice, hatred and distain, however they never wavered from the task that was set before them.
Today is the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s death in 1910.
Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 into a wealthy family. In the face of their opposition, she insisted that she wished to train in nursing. In 1853, she finally achieved her wish and headed her own private nursing institute in London. Her efforts at improving conditions for the wounded during the Crimean War won her great acclaim and she devoted the rest of her life to reforming nursing care. Her school at St Thomas’s Hospital became significant in helping to elevate nursing into a profession. An Anglican, she remained committed to a personal mystical religion which sustained her through many years of poor health until her death in the year 1910.
One of Florence’s surviving letters written in 1852 says this:
The Church of England has for men bishoprics, archbishoprics, and a little work. … For women she has – what? I had no taste for theological discoveries. I would have given her my head, my hand, my heart. She would not have them. She did not know what to do with them. She told me to go back and do crochet in my mother’s drawing room; or, if I were tired of that, to marry and look well at the head of my husband’s table. You may go to the Sunday School if you like it, she said. But she gave me no training even for that. She gave me neither work to do for her, nor education for it.
Some things have changed in the past 150 years but some things remain the same, I wonder what Florence would have to say about the Church, not just the CoE, today?
I also discovered this powerful prayer of hers, which shows that despite the way she was often perceived she was a humble woman of great faith and compassion.
Oh God, you put into my heart this great desire to devote myself to the sick and sorrowful; I offer it to you. Do with it what is best for your service.
You know that through all these twenty horrible years I have been supported by the belief that I was working with you who were bringing every one of us, even our poor nurses, to perfection. O Lord, even now, I am trying to snatch the management of your world from your hands. Too little have I looked for something higher and better than my own work – the work of supreme Wisdom, which uses us, whether we known it or not.