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Florence Nightingale at First Hand

Edited by Lynn McDonald
Subjects Biography & Autobiography, Social Science, Women’s Studies, History
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Paperback : 9781554581917, 216 pages, March 2010

Table of contents

Table of Contents for
Florence Nightingale at First Hand by Lynn McDonald

List of Figures

List of Illustrations


Dramatis Personae

A Quick Sketch of Florence Nightingale’s Life

1. The Making of Florence Nightingale

Faith and Church

Domestic Arrangements, Friends, the Arts

Illness and Working Style

Companion Animals and Love of Nature

Last Days, Will and Death

2. The Social Reformer

Science, Law and Probability

Social Class, Government and Politics

Women and Family

Suggestions for Thought

3. War

The Crimean War

Nightingale’s “Confidential Report”

War Office Reform

The Geneva Convention, the Franco-Prussian War and Militarism

Militarism and the Causes of War

4. Health Care, Nursing and Midwifery

Nightingale’s Approach to Health and Healing

The Nightingale System of Nursing

The Influence of Nightingale Nursing Worldwide

The Evolution of Nursing Practice

Midwifery Training and Maternity Care

District Nursing

5. Workhouse Infirmaries and Hospitals

Workhouse Infirmary Reform

Safer Hospitals

6. India and Empire

Imperialism, Racism and Independence


Indian Women

7. Nightingale’s Legacy


Recommended Sources on Florence Nightingale



Florence Nightingale is one of the most famous figures in modern history, yet questions have been raised as to her real achievements. Much of what we know of her emanates from unreliable second-hand accounts and from a misreading of the primary sources.

Based on her writings, Florence Nightingale at First Hand lets the legendary founder of nursing and heroine of the Crimean War speak for herself. Author Lynn McDonald is the editor of the Collected Works of Florence Nightingale (WLU Press) and the world’s foremost Nightingale authority. Chapters relate Nightingale’s background, her faith and political creed, her work during Crimean War and its aftermath, on later wars, and on reform in nursing, health care, midwifery, workhouses, hospitals, and India.

Published to commemorate the centenary of Nightingale’s death, this book presents a Florence Nightingale for the twenty-first century: she was a prodigiously astute researcher, a bold systems thinker, and a witty writer well connected with political and intellectual leaders. Her passionate dedication to her causes shines through her writing, making this book a great read.


“The author carefully documents each aspect of Nightingale's life and writings. ... Clear and comprehensive. ... This firsthand look at Nightingale also should serve as a catalyst for experienced researchers interested in pursuing additional resources, in both the collected works and among secondary sources, to more fully understand Nightingale's considerable influence. ... Recommended. ”

- M.P. Tarbox, Choice, November 2010

“A very useful guide into the world of Florence Nightingale. Each aspect of her work occupies a different chapter, making it easy to dip in and out according to the reader's interest. There are chapters on Nightingale and social reform, war work, nursing and midwifery, workhouse infirmaries, and India. This latter topic, rarely discussed in the literature, is of particular interest, as is Nightingale's statistical work in public health. The discussion of her contribution to the Royal Report into the Crimean War is well presented, while the section on nursing and midwifery avoids the usual heroic portrayal of Nightingale as sole reformer. ”

- Sue Hawkins, Bulletin of Medical History, 85, 2011

“Since the 1950s, when nurses were forced into a servile role in relation to male doctors, Nightingale has often taken the rap for this demeaning concept of the nursing profession. Nothing could be further from the truth, and luckily, Canada has the world's leading expert on Nightingale's work and thought to set the record straight. ... An upper-class Englishwoman, a devout Christian and a lifelong celibate, Nightingale makes an easy target for careless debunkers. In fact, she was an astonishingly tough, brilliant and open-minded campaigner for progressive social and economic change. A liberal (today she would be a social democrat), she ardently opposed the cold-hearted laissez-faire policies that dominated in her day. ... McDonald's prose is crisp and authoritative. She illuminates the astonishing scope of Nightingale's genius and her prolific work for the public good. ”

- Michele Landsberg, Herizons, Fall 2011

“Justly famous as the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale's fame has endured from the 1950s until today. The two books under review here provide ample evidence as to why this should be so. As both author and editor Lynn McDonald has spent much of her professional career probing virtually every aspect of Nightingale's ninety years of life. And what an amazingly productive life it was, which Nightingale's sixteen-volume Collected Works—edited principally by McDonald—makes clear. But if the received public image of Nightingale continues to be that of the “Lady of the Lamp,” then both her own Suggestions for Thought and McDonald's short biography—published to mark the centenary of Nightingale's death—show her to have been a hard-headed, clear-thinking reformer, in addition to a heroic nurse. ... The Nightingale project ranks with both the Gladstone diaries and the Disraeli letters as a major undertaking in the field of Victorian-era scholarship, and therefore is of surpassing value to historians of the period, as well as to general readers. ”

- C. Brad Faught, Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol. 81 (1), March 2012

“This is the best short study of Florence Nightingale available and a welcome addition to the literature for Nightingale's centenary year.”

- Mark Bostridge, Choice, November 2010

“Florence Nightingale is one of a handfull of women in history famous enough to have become a household name. But unlike many others who come to mind—Cleopatra, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette—she was not a monarch. She is a thoroughly modern heroine who achieved iconic status by dint of her own efforts. Yet history seems to be as uncomfortable with Nightingale as it was with those other legendary women. Those too famous to be forgotten are instead used as object lessons about the dangers of getting ‘uppity’, of marrying too frequently or not at all. According to Lynn McDonald, Nightingale has earned the fame but not the respect that she so richly deserves. She offers Florence Nightingale at First Hand as a passionate corrective.... McDonald is the editor of the Nightingale's Collected Works and ... no one is more conversant with Nightingale's rich archival legacy. She also brings to the present project a graceful prose that is a pleasure to read.... McDonald's approach to Nightingale's defence, focusing as she does on the modern implications of her social policy ideas, may be one that finally brings Nightingale the serious consideration she deserves.”

- Judith Schneid Lewis, Times Higher Education Supplement, May 6, 2010