Unfortunately, your browser is too old to work on this website. Please upgrade your browser

Florence Nightingale promotes ideas on sanitary nursing

Florence Nightingale rose to fame for her nursing of army patients during the Crimean War. A close ally of Edwin Chadwick, Nightingale believed that there was a link between unsanitary conditions and disease. As a result, cleanliness was a priority for her in her wards during the war.

Nightingale believed that a nurse's duty was to ventilate and warm the ward and to ensure cleanliness, comfort and hygiene in order to prevent illness and disease. She wrote on the subject of sanitary nursing (as opposed to surgical nursing), grounding her advice on her work and insights of the poor laws and workhouses in her book Notes on nursing: What it is and what it is not.

'In watching disease, the thing which strikes the experienced observer most forcibly is this, that the symptoms or the sufferings generally considered to be inevitable and incident to the disease are very often not symptoms of the disease at all, but of something quite different - of the want of fresh air, or of light, or of warmth, or of quiet, or of cleanliness, or of punctuality and care in the administration of diet, of each or of all of these.'

While Nightingale is often cited as having founded the nursing profession, nursing was already being taken seriously by major hospitals. The St John's House and Sisterhood, the first nursing order for the Church of England, founded a nursing school and introduced a system of training and promotion.

St John's House was asked to provide the nursing service for King's College Hospital in 1856. Its model was adopted by other religious orders that provided nursing services for other hospitals.

In 1860, Nightingale established a secular training school for nurses at St Thomas' Hospital in London.


McDonald L.
Florence Nightingale as a social reformer.
History Today; 2006.

Nightingale F.
Notes on nursing: What it is and what it is not.
London: Harrison; 1859.