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Florence Nightingale

W. T. Stead (The Review of Reviews, vol. XLII, September, 1910, pp. 222-223)

The death of Florence Nightingale at the age of ninety removes the most famous survivor of nineteenth century notabilities.

Florence Nightingale, the only woman upon whom the Order of Merit was conferred by the King, had long been canonised by the world at large. She has been hailed everywhere, and especially by the opponents of the full citizenship of women, as the supreme type of the feminine woman. Even Mr. Belloc found in her the ideal of womanhood. It is, therefore, interesting to recall the fact, first, that Florence Nightingale was an old maid. She never had either husband or child, and therefore conspicuously failed in discharging what the anti-Suffragettes declare to be the first, if not the only, duty of woman. Secondly, Florence Nightingale was a strong-minded woman, tall and large in person, of some austerity of manner, and with a tongue that she did not hesitate to use to the terror of evil-doers, and to the confusion of fools. Thirdly, Florence Nightingale had been educated as a man. She was a capable scholar in Latin, Greek, and mathematics. If she had been born later she would have taken her degrees; but when she was a girl the universities and their degrees were monopolised by men. Fourthly, Florence Nightingale's great work was accomplished after she was forty amid a perfect hurricane of abuse directed against the woman guilty of so unwomanly an act (and such an outrage upon the modesty of her sex as to introduce women into hospitals where common soldiers lay ill and dying. Fifthly, Florence Nightingale was a close friend of Josephine Butler, and as an ardent supporter of the repeal of the C.D. Acts was the most distinguished of the Shrieking Sisterhood; and, sixthly, she was a convinced and earnest advocate of woman's suffrage.


The hopeless incompetence of the mere male to discharge the duties which by nature are laid upon both sexes was never more strikingly illustrated than in the British camp at the Crimea. There man monopolised everything to his heart's content. Everything was exclusively in the hands of the male. War is man's business. Woman was not even allowed to have a look in in (sic) the British lines. It was far different in the French army. There the nursing sisters of the Catholic Church were hard at work long before Miss Nightingale was allowed to enter the field. The net result of confiding everything to the superior sex was the most appalling muddlement in history. Not until the deaths from sickness reached 60 per cent. of the British force at the front did the dominant male consent to allow mere woman to try her hand. Florence Nightingale, a trained administrator, a strong-minded woman with a man's education, was sent out with a band of women. She revolutionised everything. She saved the British Army. In doing so she permanently impaired her own health. But what of that? In that ghastly record of political madness and military imbecility known as the Crimean War her work alone is gratefully remembered by mankind. The men did nothing, and even worse than nothing, with their cannon and their warships and their reckless expenditure of human life. They neither destroyed Russia nor rehabilitated Turkey. Sebastopol is stronger than it was before, and the Russian flag floats supreme in the Euxine. But the work done by this English spinster survives and flourishes to this day. The inauguration of a system of trained nurses substituted the ideal of Florence Nightingale for the actuality of Sairey Gamp.

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