top of page


Childhood and scientific influences

Florence Nightingale was born on 12 May 1820 in Florence, Italy, and died on 13 August 1910 in London, England. She was the daughter of William Edward and Frances Nightingale. From childhood she showed remarkable intelligence. Her father took charge of her education, leading her to study history, philosophy and literature. However, Florence was especially gifted in mathematics and languages. She is particularly interested in statistics, a field in which her father, an epidemiologist, excels. She also has access to his statistical analyses and presentations of data on medical care and public health.

Religion was also a very important part of her life. Florence believed that nursing was a way of serving God and humanity, with the aim of reducing human suffering. In 1851, she managed to train as a nurse, despite the reluctance of her parents, who felt that this profession was not suitable for her. In 1853, she became superintendent of the Institution For Sick Gentlewoman where she was able to improve nursing care, working conditions and the efficiency of the hospital.

Nursing career

On 21 October 1854, with the Crimean War in full swing, Florence and 38 other trained volunteer nurses travelled to Turkey on Sidney Herbert’s authorisation to provide care for the British army. On the spot, she discovered a deplorable health situation: overworked medical staff, neglected patients, limited treatment, common and fatal infections (typhoid, cholera, etc.). Faced with this, Florence and her colleagues set about cleaning the hospital and all its equipment, and reorganising patient care. She set up standards of care such as bathing, clothing, clean dressings and appropriate food. She even paid attention to the psychological needs of the soldiers by writing letters to their families as well as through educational and recreational activities. She was nicknamed ‘The Lady with the Lamp‘ as she wandered the wards of the patients also at night, proof of her commitment. According to the figures, she managed to reduce the mortality rate by 2%.

Contribution to statistics

Florence Nightingale is also known for her work in the field of statistics. In 1857, on her return to Britain, she was awarded a prize by Queen Victoria for her work. She also contributed to the establishment of the Royal Commission for Army Health, of which Sidney Herbert became chairman. Having experienced the Crimean War at first hand, she used the information she gathered there to carry out a study on mortality in the British Army. This study was summarised in a 1000-page document, and established the link between poor hygiene and health conditions and the high mortality rate in the British army. To make her case, she uses various statistical and data representation methods, such as coxcombs (pie charts).

Oxcombs Diagram of Florence Nightingale

This Oxcomb has been divided into 12 slices representing the months of the year, with the shaded area of each month’s slice being proportional to the mortality rate in that month. Its colour-coded shading indicates the cause of death in each area of the chart. Thus, the areas of the grey zones are proportional to the number of deaths from infectious diseases. The pink areas are proportional to the number of deaths due to injuries. The areas of the black zones are proportional to the number of deaths due to other causes. The grey, pink and black areas are all measured from the centre of the graph. A black line shows when the black area is below another area (e.g. November 1854). In October 1854 and April 1855 the black area and the pink area are identical, so only one colour is shown. The same is true in January and February 1856 for the grey and black areas.

In the graph below, Florence was able to explain that better health conditions would reduce the mortality rate from 30% to 15-20% among soldiers aged 20 to 40.

Redit : blog jeanneemard

Nightingale was also able to prove that 90% of patients in London hospitals died compared to only 60% of patients who did not go to hospital. She also conducted a comprehensive statistical study of the health system in rural India, which led to improvements in medical care and public health services in India.

Florence also contributed to improving the quality of the army’s data by criticising its inconsistency and wide variation between sources. For example, she was able to establish that due to inadequate data collection, the number of deaths recorded by the hospital in the Crimea was only one seventh of the actual number of deaths.

Other works and awards

In 1855, while she was still in Turkey, the Nightingale Fund was established to honour her work. In 1860, she established the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas’ Hospital. Today the school is called the Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery, which trains nurses and midwives, and belongs to King’s College London. In 1860, the book Notes on Nursing, written by Florence, was published. This small 136-page book served as the cornerstone of the Nightingale School’s curriculum, as well as for other schools founded later.

In 1883, Nightingale was awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria. In 1907, she became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit. In 1908, she was awarded the Honorary Freedom of the City of London. In recognition of her work in statistics, she became the first woman member of the Royal Statistical Society.

Today, Florence continues to be honoured in both the health and statistical fields. The Florence Museum in London is dedicated to her, and International Nurses’ Day is celebrated on 12 May, her birthday. Many foundations and hospitals bear her name.

Florence is also known for her commitment to English feminism. She wrote

Suggestions for Thought to Searchers after Religious Truth. It is a three-volume book, one part of which, entitled Cassandra, denounces the excessive feminisation of women, which leads them to be entirely dependent and unable to stand on their own feet.

Written by Oceane G. and Lobelie N.

Credits :


logo sci gi.png
bottom of page