Florence Nightingale Introduction & Books

Florence Nightingale      Florence Nightingale

Only rarely does such a human being come along whose impact changes the world in her lifetime, and continues to have sustaining power long after her death. Florence Nightingale "belongs to the Ages." Her life is linked with the mystics, visionaries and healers throughout history: the recognized medieval mystics – St. Catherine of Siena, St. Catherine of Genoa, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi – and the modern 20th-century mystics – Gandhi and Mother Teresa.

Barbara was instrumental in helping place Florence Nightingale's name before the Episcopal Church, in consideration for placement on the church's official calendar. Barbara wrote three of the five documents to accompany the 1997 Resolution Proposal, which passed when voted on in July, 2000, at the 73rd General Episcopal Church Convention. Formal Episcopal church services to honor Florence Nightingale will begin in August 2001, around her death date of August 13.

In her epic Crimean war mission (1854-1856) of leading and directing women nurses in the army hospital at Scutari, Turkey, Florence Nightingale burst into world consciousness as a spiritual beacon for all who suffered. Her historic breakthrough achievement - pioneering the modern administrative role of nurse superintendent with measurable outcomes supported by irrefutable data - in the face of incredible adversity was merely the cornerstone of her life work.

During her 20 months at Scutari, Nightingale spearheaded the Herculean effort by a small group of reformers to save a 27,000-man army in the field from destruction by filth, exposure, and disease alone, reducing the mortality rate from 42% to a little over 2% in six months. Her enormous work output in these months -- the 20-hour days of physical labor, the continuous official correspondence and letter writing in the cold and wet, the three trips across the Black Sea to the Crimea and the harsh weather of the steppe, all the while keeping her focus of mind and maintaining discipline in her fledgling nurse corps -- alone would earn her a place in the annals of human leadership and endurance.


Already a legend, but nearly crippled by the Crimean fever that would leave her with a debilitating, chronic illness for 30 years, Nightingale returned quietly to England where she began what would become the greater body of her work over the next four decades: reform of the British Army medical system; establishment of the Nightingale Training School for nurses; publication of Notes on Nursing, the seminal text for the theory and practice of modern nursing; publication of extensive written government documents and numerous authoritative books and articles; and the beginning of her role as activist, catalyst, and leader in sanitation reform (now know as public health) in England, India, and throughout the world.

There has been much speculation about the source of Nightingale’s motivation and inspiration. Many authors have rightly examined her religious and spiritual life because for Nightingale, the spiritual life was a daily reality. But there is a further step – a giant step – that she took in her life that separated her from most mortals, which brings the lights up full on the scene.

This is the fact, as plain as the nose on one’s face: Florence Nightingale was a modern mystic in the Western religious tradition. Understanding her mysticism in its full context is the key to understanding the fabled "Nightingale power" and how this legendary healer brilliantly illuminated and forever changed human consciousness, the role of women, and nursing and public health systems in the middle of the 19th century.

Many people today are aware of Nightingale’s secular contributions to the nursing profession, but that is only a part of her legacy. Her spiritual journey can also be of immense help to all individuals in traversing their personal and spiritual paths. Nightingale exemplifies a degree of courage and fearlessness that is rare in any era. She shows that it is possible to honor our spiritual vision and integrate it with the highest standards of nursing practice - to "walk our talk."

Barbara M. Dossey,
FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE: MYSTIC, VISIONARY, HEALER (Commemorative Edition). Philadelphia: F. A. Davis, 2010.

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