Cambridge Historical Reader: Primary - Cambridge Press

Florence Nightingale, "The Lady with the Lamp"

The long reign of queen Victoria was made famous by the great and good deeds of many noble men and women. One of these, Miss Florence Nightingale, was loved by her countrymen for her kind and loving care of our sick and wounded soldiers, in the great war with Russia.

This lady was born in the fine old city of Florence, in Italy, and that is why her parents gave her that name. They soon returned to their beautiful home in Derbyshire; and here the little girl spent a very happy childhood.

Florence at Scutari


She was always very fond of birds and animals, and one of the stories told of her is about her kindness to a poor dog. A cruel boy had thrown a stone at it, and its master, an old shepherd, thought its leg was broken. He showed it to Florence Nightingale, who bathed the wound, and then bound it up with much care and tenderness.

In a few days, the poor dog was better. After this, it became quite a common thing, when anyone had a cut or a bruise, to send for "Miss Florence." You may be sure that sick animals, also, were not forgotten by the kind-hearted little girl.

As she grew older, she began to visit the hospitals of this country, and, later, those of other countries, too. In this way, she learned how to deal with large numbers of sick people; what treatment was best for different kinds of disease; and how to bring comfort to those lying on beds of pain. In this good work, she spent more than ten years of her life. The time was now coming when her great gifts as a nurse were to be put to their highest use.

Our country was at war with Russia, in the Crimea, and sad stories were told of the sufferings of our wounded soldiers there.

People heard with shame and sorrow of poor, sick men, lying out on the bare ground, with no one to comfort them in their pain and weakness. There was quite enough coarse and bad food for them, such as the soldiers had who were well. There were, however, none of those little dainties so much needed by those who are ill.

The doctors did their best for the men; but so great was the number of the wounded that they could not attend to them all. Hundreds died of cold and hunger, or of their wounds.

Florence Nightingale's heart was filled with pity, as she read these sad accounts in our newspapers. So, one day, she wrote to a great man in the government, offering to go out as a nurse. He was very pleased to accept her noble offer; and, in a very short time, she set out with a band of thirty-eight nurses.

When they reached Scutari, where the sick and wounded had been taken, these nurses found everything in a very bad state. It took several months of hard work to put everything in good order, and by this time there were two or three thousand men under their care.

Soon, they were joined by another band of fifty nurses. Things were so well arranged now, that a cry of pain from a poor suffering man soon brought a nurse to his side, to attend to his wants.

Florence Nightingale was at the head of this great hospital, and saw that everything was done properly. This left her very little time for rest. Yet, she might often be seen, late at night, going through the long line of beds, with a little lamp in her hand.

As she passed along, she would say a kind word to one, and smile at another; and it is said that the sick men would kiss her shadow, as it fell on their pillows. They would then rest their heads on their pillows again, quite content.

For nearly two years did these good women remain at their post. Some of them died, and many suffered from fever. Among these was Florence Nightingale herself, and the doctors thought that she, too, would die. But, at last, she began to get better, and before long was at her work again. When this sad war came to an end, our soldiers returned home, and so, of course, did Florence Nightingale and her band of nurses.

Queen Victoria had already sent a kind letter to her and a beautiful cross, covered with jewels. On it were these words, in letters of gold, "Blessed are the Merciful."

A large sum of money was collected throughout Britain, for "the soldiers' friend," as Florence Nightingale was called. By her own wish, a home for nurses was set up in St Thomas's hospital with the money.

Here may be seen a fine statue of this great and good woman, carrying the little lamp in her hand. Well might the poet say, speaking of her—

"A Lady with a lamp shall stand,

In the great history of the land."