March 29, 2009 - Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) is famous for her courageous medical assistance during the Crimean War and is often referred to as the founder of the nursing profession.  In the Footsteps of Phoebe mentions that Florence learned nursing skills at Theodore Fliedner’s Institution of Protestant Deaconesses in Kaiserswerth, Germany.  She later outlined the Kaiserswerth nursing principles in her writings, and in 1860, implemented these principles in a model nursing school in London, England.

What is less known about Florence is that she was a prolific writer.  In 2001, Wilfrid Laurier University Press introduced “The Collected Works of Florence Nightingale,” a three-volume series of her published and unpublished works.  The Overview of Nightingale’s Spiritual Journey (Volume 1) outlines her spiritual development, and also gives us a brief glimpse into the deaconess community at Kaiserswerth.

“The two visits to Kaiserswerth, in 1850 and especially the longer one in 1851, can be seen as key in the development of her mission.  For the only time in her life, Nightingale was exposed to religious teaching:  frequent sermons and Bible classes, given by Pastor Fliedner and other Lutheran ministers.  She took copious notes in English, leaving in the occasional German word that did not translate easily…

“Nightingale clearly did not agree with everything taught at Kaiserswerth, and some strain in the relationship with the dynamic, but autocratic, Pastor Fliedner is evident.  Notes show that he taught that women should not preach, a view Nightingale rejected.  Yet she respected him enormously, considered him the best preacher she ever heard and was a loyal supporter of the Fliedners themselves.  She wrote pamphlets on and for Kaiserswerth at their request, corresponded with them, prayed for them, contributed her own money and raised funds for their missions.  On Pastor Fliedner’s death Nightingale maintained contact with his widow, sent her money, and helped raise money both for the family and the ongoing work.  On Nightingale’s departure from Kaiserswerth in 1851, she asked Pastor Fliedner for his blessing and some sort of dedication prayers probably were said.  It is noteworthy that the Fliedners asked Nightingale to be godmother to their son, Carl (1853-1930) before she became heroine of the Crimean War.  …

“Perhaps most important about the Kaiserswerth experience was that it showed Nightingale a Protestant expression of faith as demanding as that of Roman Catholic religious orders.  Pastor Fliedner himself taught:  ‘Think it a privilege to tend Christ in an infectious disease or any other.’  The deaconesses, moreover, were to do so ‘with pleasure,’ for ‘if you lose your pleasure in works of love, they are worth nothing.’ Years later Nightingale would herself use the expression that it was a ‘privilege’ to nurse in a cholera epidemic.”