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Biography of Florence Nightingale

Portrait of Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale was famous for introducing organised nursing to the army during the Crimean War and for training of nurses.

When and Where was she Born?

12th May 1820, Villa Colombaia, near the Porta Romana, Florence, Italy. (Hence her first name).

Family Background:

Florence Nightingale was the second daughter of wealthy parents, William Edward Shore (He adopted the name Nightingale to get his inheritance) and Frances Smith, wealthy daughter of a Unitarian family and Liberal politician. (Unitarians are a liberal Christian denomination who believe that God is one being, and where each congregation has control over its own affairs).


She was taught at home by her father who was Cambridge University educated.

Timeline of Florence Nightingale:

1821: The Nightingale family return to England from Italy. They settle in her father’s Derbyshire property which has a lead smelting works in the grounds which her father manages. Their father has another property called Lea Hurst built in the nearby village of Lea which is to serve as their summer house for the rest of Florence’s life.

1823: The family move to Keynsham Court in Presteigne, Herefordshire

1825: The family move to Embley Park in Wellow, Hampshire.

1837: Florence Nightingale states that God has called her to his service but at this time she is not fully aware what that service will be. The family travel to Europe in September and she meets Mary Clarke in Paris.

1839: The family returns to England in April. In June Florence and her Cousins are presented to Queen Victoria at her Birthday Party.  The family move back to the renovated Embley Park in September. (See picture of Embley Park here).

1842: She meets Richard Monckton Milnes.

1844: She asks Doctor Howe if it would be acceptable to devote herself to charitable works in hospitals like the Catholic nuns. She refuses a proposal of marriage from her Cousin Henry Nicholson.

1845: Florence Nightingale wants to train in the nearby Salisbury hospital but her parents are horrified as this is not a respectable job for a well brought up lady.

1846: She begins to train herself about hospitals from the Government Blue Books.

1847: Richard Monckton Miles wants to marry her but as she is verging on a nervous breakdown she travels to Rome with friends.

1848: She attends the opening of Sidney Herbert’s Charmouth convalescent home and at last her knowledge is recognised.

1849: She finally refuses Milnes proposal of marriage. In December she accompanies her friends the Bracebridges on a trip down the River Nile in Egypt.

1850: They then continue on a trip through Europe. In July she visits the Kaiserwerth Institution in Dusseldorf on the Rhine in Germany. Originally the Deaconess Mutterhaus it is a religious institution where unmarried women aim to look after the poor and the sick. Pastor Theodore Fliedner asks her to write a pamphlet about Kaiserwerth.

1851: Nightingale begins to study at Kaiserwerth and passes her nursing exams. (there is still a Florence Nightingale hospital today in northern Dusseldorf, reflecting her later fame as a student there).

1853: Her father gives her an allowance of £500 to continue her studies. She is asked by the committee of the Establishment for Gentlewomen to be the matron for nursing and a week later the organisation moves to Harley Street with 20 beds and Florence begins to use it as a training centre. (it would later become The Florence Nightingale Hospital for Gentlewomen at 19 Lisson Grove in north west London.

1854: Great Britain enters the Crimean War. (Russia had put pressure on the Ottoman Empire in Turkey and this threatened British commercial interests in the Middle East and India. France joined Britain as an ally along with Turkey who were wanting to increase their influence in the region. It originally broke out in October 1853) Sidney Herbert as Secretary of State for War asks Nightingale to nurse British soldiers. She takes a party of thirty eight nurses to the Barrack Hospital in Scutari, near Constantinople in Turkey. She is surprised by the lack of facilities and despair of the doctors but decides to try and lift their spirits. She becomes a heroine to the troops and is affectionately known as the “Lady with the Lamp” as she would check on their conditions at night with a lamp in her hand. Songs and poems are written about her which made her into a national figure.

1855: A public subscription is raised in Britain to assist her work. She becomes ill with Crimean fever. (A viral infection).

Detail of the Crimean War on the base of the Nightingale statue, London. (copyright Anthony Blagg)
Detail of the Crimean War on the base of the Nightingale statue, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1856: As the War is over Florence returns home to Lea Hurst. She is invited by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to talk to them about her war experiences.

1857: The Government decides to form a Royal Commission to look into the disasters of the Crimean War. As women were not allowed to sit on such a commission she writes a submission to send to them. The Sepoy Rebellion in India draws her attention to the problems of sanitation. (Sometimes known as the Indian Rebellion. It started when an Indian Sepoy or soldier in Barrackpore, West Bengal started a rebellion against British rule in India). She is now ill with what would later be called post-traumatic stress disorder and she becomes bedridden only seeing visitors one at a time and never appearing in public. She is proposed to by Sir Harry Verney but declines so Sir Harry marries her sister Parthenope instead. (Note: Parthenope was also named for the city shows born in).

1859: She publishes a small book called “Notes on Nursing.”

1860: The Nightingale Training School for nurses is opened at St. Thomas’s Infirmary with Mrs Sarah Wardroper as its head. Florence is now living in a flat in London and keeps a close attention to this project. She becomes the first woman to be elected a Fellow of the Statistical Society for using statistics and graphs in nursing.

1861: She is asked for advice on nursing by the Union forces in the American Civil War. (1861-65 between the Confederate States of the south and the Union states of the north)

1862: Florence publishes her “Observations” about sanitation conditions on India.

1864: She works on segregating men women and insane patients of the poor.

1865: She moves to Number 35 (now 10) South Street, Mayfair, London in October where she remains for the rest of her life.

1867: Nightingale works principally on rural hygiene and Indian sanitation.

1871: She publishes “Notes on Lying in Hospital”.

1872: The founder of the Red Cross, Henri Dunant, claims Nightingale’s ideas greatly influenced him.

1874: Death of her father in January.

1880: Death of her mother in February.

1883: Queen Victoria awards her the Royal Red Cross which is is a military decoration awarded for exceptional services in military nursing.

1885: She begins to nurse her sister Parthenope.

1887: Founding of the British Nurses Association.

1890: Death of her sister on the 12th May. Florence’s voice is recorded by the Eddison Company on a wax cylinder. (this is still available to listen to on You Tube here).

Florence Nightingale Statue
Statue of Florence Nightingale next to the Crimean War MemorialWaterloo Place, London (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1896: She is now permanently confined to her bedroom.

1902: As she can now no longer read or write she takes on a secretary/housekeeper.

1907: Nightingale receives the Order of Merit from King Edward the Seventh, the first time it is given to a woman.

1910: She is no longer capable of speaking and dies on 13th August.

When and Where did she Die?

13th August 1910, at her home in London, England of heart failure.

Age at Death:


Written Works:

1859: “Notes on Nursing.”
1862: “Observations”
1871: “Notes on Lying in Hospital”.


She was never married though proposed to three times, lastly by Thomas Hoades a butcher/farmer from Lea. She felt marriage would not allow her to carry out her work.

Site of Grave:

St. Margaret’s Churchyard, East Wellow, Hampshire, England.

There is a memorial to her in St Paul’s Cathedral, London.

Places of Interest:


Lea Hurst, Matlock (now a Royal Surgical Aid Society Home).


Embley Park, Romsey. (now a School)
Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps, Regimental Headquarters, Royal Pavilion, Farnborough Road, Aldershot, GU11 1PZ. (Has her lamp and Carriage).


Florence Nightingale Museum, 2 Lambeth Palace Road.
Claydon House (National Trust). (Home of her sister and brother in law).
The Old Operating Theatre Museum and Herb Garden, 9a St Thomas Street, Southwark.
10 South Street, Mayfair.
Florence Nightingale Foundation, 199 Westminster Bridge Road, SW1 7UJ.


Bodelwyddan Castle, Bodelwydden, Clwyd, LL18 5YA. (Has a portrait of Florence Nightingale)

Further Information

The Lost Hospitals of London.