If her parents had let her have her way from the beginning, Florence Nightingale would have become Salisbury’s most celebrated ‘daughter’. As it is, East Wellow and Wilton will claim her, along with St Thomas’ Hospital in London.
Regarded as the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale was born, in Florence, Italy, on 12 May 1820 – two hundred years ago this year. And yes, was named after her birthplace. Her parents, from Embley Park (now a school) at East Wellow near Romsey, were on a ‘ Grand Tour’ when she was born. Her sister, Frances Parthenope, was born a year earlier when the Nightingales were in Naples. Parthenope was a Greek name for that city.
As early as 1845, Florence was pestering her parents to allow her to become a nurse at Salisbury Infirmary. In 1837 she had, she said later, a visitation from God which convinced her that something like this was to be her vocation. She was right, as we now know, but nursing then was not a profession, nurses mostly being of the ‘lower classes’ and useful for little more than removing the bodies from the wards.
Equality for women, it seems, is still an issue, particularly in the workplace. But in 1845, Florence could not easily have a career at all and certainly not without her father’s backing. He was sympathetic (her mother was not), but in the end her support came from another man – Sidney Herbert of Wilton House.
Florence became a celebrity in Victorian Britain, enough to rival any today, and mercilessly used her fame to campaign for reforms in nursing and in the conditions for the army.
She has fallen out of fashion now but deserves a revival. More about Florence in the coming weeks….