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Scene from a Passage to India
Scene from a Passage to India
Florence Nightingale's outstanding work for the numerous wounded soldiers during the chaotic Crimean war brought her massive, albeit unwelcome, celebrity back home in Britain. The enduring image of the founder of the nursing profession is of 'The Lady with the Lamp', but it belies the lifetime's efforts reforming healthcare and improving hygiene for soldiers and civilians throughout the Empire.

Florence Nightingale was brought up in England and educated by her father. She soon became frustrated by the restrictions of life as a respectable middle class Victorian woman. Thus in 1850 she enrolled on a nursing course in Kaisersworth, Germany. When the Crimean war broke out in 1853 she took a party of 38 nurses to oversee the military hospital in Scutari in Turkey, where she set about improving the atrocious conditions she found there. Her hygienic discipline significantly lowered hospital mortality rates and raised standards in nursing care. In 1855 she moved her party to the Crimea itself and channelled her efforts into campaigning for the welfare of the British soldiers.

She returned to England in 1857 and rejected the heroine's welcome offered to her. Although she remained in her home in London almost constantly for the next 53 years, suffering from certain "unexplained" illnesses she remained active in continuing her work, supported by her friends and most notably Queen Victoria. In 1860 the Nightingale School for Nurses, the first of its kind was established. She also became an expert in public health in India, and from her couch advised Viceroys on matters from rural sewerage projects to prison health. In 1907 she became the first woman to be awarded the Order of Merit.

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