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Lady of the Lamp
Saturday, May 6, 2023 by Brave Knight Writers

“Lady of the Lamp”

We stumbled upon a book titled 100 Great Lives. Penciled inside the cover were words gifting the book from a father to his son on Christmas of 1944. Words stimulate thoughts and feelings, and these created a visual of time travel and of wonder surrounding the Christmas of 1944, a world at war. The book is fascinating, and I chose an excerpt to use in this blog.

My choice throws us back even further in time and to another war, in the Crimea, and the courage of a woman who cast aside all convention to pursue a life of sacrifice and giving. A woman who posessed everything the world had to offer. Gifted with beauty, education, money, and charm who came at age thirty-one (page 191 of 100 Great Lives) to write, “In my thirty-first year, I see nothing desirable but death. Everything has been tried-foreign travel, kind friends-everything. My God! What is to become of me?” This quote came from her diary.

At age ninety, upon her death and in a eulogy by Lord Stanley the question was answered for the woman known as “The Lady of the Lamp”. “I know of no person besides Miss Nightingale who, within the past hundred years within this island, or perhaps in Europe, has voluntarily encountered dangers so imminent, and undertaken offices as repulsive, working for a large and worthy object, in the pure spirit of duty towards God and compassion for man.”

 Florence Nightingale has found her way and in finding it changed medical culture with an impact lasting to this day. To put her choice into perspective one must consider the conditions in hospitals at the time of the mid-eighteen hundreds. Even the general culture and attitudes toward a woman’s place in society was challenge enough, let alone traveling into a war zone to care for brutally wounded soldiers. She had no need to do such things, other than to live and satisfy the emptiness she found in worldly pursuits.

In the eighteen-fifties nursing was a lowly profession, the death rates in hospitals were high, and sanitation rarely considered. Nurses were the female underlings of male supervisors who lacked respect for those carrying out the repulsive yet necessary needs of the dying and suffering. The nurses of the day lacked education, and the pay was as low or lower than a common laborer. Nurses often were alcoholics with questionable morals and low self-esteem. Under the guidance of Miss Nightingale, hospital windows opened to allow fresh air and she demanded everyone wash their hands and use proper hygiene, simple things we take for granted but causing the hospital death rates to significantly decline. Nursing schools were established, and the status of nurses elevated. Miss Nightingale took on the role of supervisor, a job only a man could previously hold, but in doing so, a horrible culture crumbled, and medical care excelled.

When called upon to provide care for the wounded soldiers in the Crimean war, she didn’t hesitate to secure her position, gather volunteers, and immediately head into the war zone. The number of her volunteers and finances were inadequate to provide for the numbers of wounded yet she pushed forward, even using her private funds to provide for the suffering. She made herself available twenty-four hours a day and the British soldiers noted seeing her late at night walking through the wards carrying an oil lamp, checking on the needs of the wounded. They called her ‘Lady of the Lamp’. Under the stress she became ill with fever, lost her luxurious hair, and her health to the point of near death. She never fully recovered, but she also never quit.    

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