Florence Nightingale - Laura Richards

Looking Out

Step by step, and all unconsciously, Florence Nightingale had been training her hand and eye to follow the dictates of her keen mind and loving heart. Now, grown a young woman, she began to think seriously how she should apply this training. What should she do with her life? Should she go on like her friends, in the quiet pleasant ways of country life? The squire's daughter was busy enough, surely. Every hour of the day was full of useful, kindly work, of happy, healthy play; should she be content with this? Her heart told her that she was not content. In her friendly visiting among the sick poor she had seen much misery and suffering, far more than she and all the other kindly, ladies could attempt to relieve. She felt that something more was needed; she began to look around to see what was being done in the larger world. It was about this time that she met Elizabeth Fry, the noble and beautiful friend of the prisoner. Mrs. Fry was then an elderly woman, with all the glory of her saintly life shining about her; Florence Nightingale an earnest and thoughtful girl of perhaps eighteen or twenty. It is pleasant to think of that meeting. I do not know what words passed between them, but I can almost see them together, the beautiful stately woman in her Quaker dress, the slender girl with her quiet face and earnest eyes; can almost hear the young voice, questioning, eager; and ardent; the elder answering, grave and sedate, words full of weight and wisdom, of sweetness and tenderness. This interview was one of the great moments of Florence Nightingale's early life.

A little later than this, in 1843, she met another person whose words and counsel impressed her deeply; and of this meeting I can give you a clearer account, for that person was my own dear father, Dr. Samuel G. Howe. Some ten years before this my father had decided to devote his life to helping people who needed help. He had established a school for the blind in Boston; he had brought Laura Bridgman, the blind, deaf mute, out of her loneliness and taught her to read, write, and talk with her fingers; the first time this had ever been done with a person so afflicted. He had labored to help the prisoners and captives in the North, and the slaves in the South; in short he was what is called a philanthropist, that is, one who loves his fellow-men and tries to help them.

My father and mother were traveling in England soon after their marriage, and were invited by Mr. and Mrs. Nightingale to spend a few days at Embley Park. One morning Miss Nightingale (for so I must call her now that she is a woman) met my father in the garden and said to him:

"Dr. Howe, you have had much experience in the world of philanthropy; you are a medical man and a gentleman; now may I ask you to tell me, upon your word, whether it would be anything unsuitable or unbecoming to a young Englishwoman, if she should devote herself to works of charity, in hospitals and elsewhere, as the Catholic Sisters do?"

My father replied: " My dear Miss Florence, it would be unusual, and in England whatever is unusual is apt to be thought unsuitable; but I say to you, go forward, if you have a vocation for that way of life; act up to your aspiration, and you will find that there is never anything unbecoming or unladylike in doing your duty for the good of others. Choose your path, go on with it, wherever it may lead you, and God be with you!"

It was in this spirit that Miss Nightingale now began to train herself for her life work.

It is hard for you children of to-day to imagine what nursing was in the early part of the nineteenth century. To you a nurse means a trim, alert, cheerful person in spotless raiment, who knows just what to do when you are ill, and does it in the pleasantest possible manner; you are glad when she comes into the room, sorry when she leaves. But this pleasant person did not exist in those days, except in the guise of a Catholic Sister of Charity. The other nurses were for the most part coarse and ignorant women, often cruel, often intemperate. When you read "Martin Chuzzlewit" you will find out more about them than I can tell you. But "Martin Chuzzlewit" was not written when Miss Nightingale determined to find out the condition of nursing in England and on the Continent. She first spent some months in the London hospitals, and then visited those in Scotland and Ireland. She was horrified at what she found there; dirt and misery and needless suffering among the patients, drunkenness and ignorance and brutality among the nurses. Then she turned to the Continent and found a very different state of things. The hospitals were clean and cheerful, and the Sisters of Mercy in their white caps and aprons were as good and kind and capable as our trained nurses to-day.

Up to this time these good sisters had been the only trained nurses in Europe; but in Germany Miss Nightingale found a Protestant sisterhood which was working along the same lines, and in a more enlightened and modern way; these were the Deaconesses of Kaiserswerth, the pupils of Pastor Fliedner.

This good man—one of the best men, surely, that ever lived—was the son of a Lutheran minister. His father was poor, and Theodore had to work his way through college, but this he did cheerfully, for he loved work. He studied very hard and also gave lessons, sawed wood, blacked boots, and did other odd jobs. When his clothes began to wear out he sewed up the holes with white thread, all he had, and then inked it over. He loved children, and on the long tramps he used to take in vacation time he was always collecting songs and games, and teaching them to the children.

When he was twenty-two years old Theodore Fliedner became pastor of a small Protestant parish at Kaiserswerth on the Rhine. The people were so poor that they could do little either for their church or themselves, so the young pastor set out on foot to seek aid from other Christian people. He traveled in Germany, Holland and England, and everywhere people felt his goodness and gave him help. In London he met Elizabeth Fry, and the noble work she was doing among the prisoners at Newgate made a deep impression on him. He determined to do something to help the prisoners in Germany, especially the poor women, who, after being imprisoned for a certain time, were cast upon the world with no possession save an ill name.

In his little garden stood an old summerhouse, partly ruinous, but with strong walls. With his own hands the good pastor mended the roof and made the place clean and habitable. He put in a bed, a table and a chair, and then prayed that God would send to this shelter some poor soul who needed it.

One night a homeless outcast woman came to the door, and the pastor and his wife bade her welcome, and took her to the clean pleasant room that was all ready.

In this humble way opened the now famous institution of Kaiserswerth. Other poor women soon found out the friendly shelter; in a short time a new and larger building was needed, and more helping hands beside those of the good pastor and his devoted wife. The good work grew and grew; some of the poor women had children, and so a school was started; the school must have good teachers, and so a training school for teachers was opened.

But most of all Pastor Fliedner wished to help the condition of the sick poor; three years after the first opening of the summerhouse shelter in the garden he founded the Deaconess Hospital. We are told that it was opened "practically without patients and without deaconesses." He obtained the use of part of a deserted factory, and begged from his neighbors old furniture and broken crockery, which he mended carefully, and put in the big empty rooms. He had only six sheets, but there was plenty of water to wash them, and when the first patient, a poor suffering servant maid, came to the door, she was made comfortable in a spotless bed, in a clean though bare room.

I wish I could tell you the whole beautiful story, but it would take too long. By the end of the year there were sixty patients in the hospital, and seven deaconess nurses to care for them. To-day there is a deaconess hospital or home in almost every town in Germany, and thousands upon thousands of sick and poor people bless the deaconesses, though they may never have heard the name of Pastor Fliedner.