Florence Nightingale - Laura Richards

Waiting for The Call

Miss Nightingale spent two periods of training at Kaiserswerth. When she left it finally, good Pastor Fliedner laid his hands on her head and gave her his blessing in simple and earnest words; and she carried with her the love and good wishes of all the pious and benevolent community.

I wish we had a picture of her in her deaconess costume. The blue cotton gown, white apron and wide collar, and white muslin cap tied under the chin with a large bow, must have set off her pensive beauty very sweetly. She always kept a tender recollection of Kaiserswerth, and says in a letter "Never have I met with a higher love and a purer devotion than there."

On her way home, Miss Nightingale spent some time with the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris. Here she saw what was probably the best nursing in the world at that time; and she studied the methods in her usual careful way, not only in the hospitals, but in the homes of the poor and suffering, where the good sisters came and went like ministering angels. She had still another opportunity, and this an unsought one, of learning what they had to teach, for she fell ill herself, and was tenderly cared for and restored to health by these skillful and devoted women.

Returning to England, she spent some time in the quiet of home, and as her strength returned, took up her old work of visiting among the sick and poor of the neighborhood. But this could not keep her long. It was not that she did not love it, and did not love her home dearly, but there were other benevolent ladies who could do this work. She realized this, and realized too, though perhaps unconsciously, that she could do harder work than this, and that there was plenty of hard work waiting to be done. She soon found it. A call came asking her to be superintendent of a Home for Sick Governesses in London, and she accepted it at once.

Did you ever think how hard governesses have to work? Did you ever think how tired they must often be, and how their heads must ache—and perhaps their hearts, too—when they are trying to teach you the lessons that you—perhaps again—are not always willing to learn? Well, try to remember, those of you who have your lessons in this way! Remember that you can make the teaching a pain or a pleasure, just as you choose; and that, after all, the teacher is trying to help you, and to give you knowledge that some day you would be very sorry not to have.

In the days of which we are speaking, governesses had a much harder time than nowadays, I think. For one thing, there were not so many different ways in which women could earn their bread. When a girl had to make her own living she went out as a governess almost as a matter of course, whether she had any love for teaching or not, simply be cause there was nothing else to do. So the teaching was often mere drudgery, and often, too, was not well done; and that meant discontent and unhappiness, and very likely broken health to follow.

The Harley Street Home, as it was then called, was founded to help poor gentlewomen who had lost their health in this kind of life. When Miss Nightingale came to it, things were in a bad condition, owing to lack of means and good management. The friends of the institution were discouraged; but discouragement, was a word not to be found in Miss Nightingale's dictionary. There was no money? Well, there must be money! She went quietly to work, interested her own friends to subscribe, then talked with the discouraged people, restoring their confidence and inducing them to renew their subscriptions; and soon, with no fuss or flourish of trumpets, the money was in hand.

Then she proceeded, just as quietly, to reorganize the whole institution; engaged competent nurses, arranged the daily life of the inmates, planned and wrote and worked, every day and all day, till she had brought order out of chaos, and made the home, instead of a place of disorder and discontent, one of comfort, peace, and cheerfulness.

You must not think that this was light or pleasant work. Sick and nervous and broken-down women are not easy to deal with; a hospital (for this is what the home really was) is not an easy thing to organize and superintend. It meant, as I have said, hard and vexatious work every day and all day; and I dare say that often and often, when night came, Florence Nightingale lay down to rest more weary than any of her patients.

At length her health gave way under the strain; she broke down, and was forced to give up the work and go home to Embley for a long rest.

It was here, in her own home, amid her own beautiful fields and gardens, that the call came which summoned her to the great work of her life.