August 12: Florence Nightingale, Nurse, Social Reformer, 1910

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About this commemoration

Florence Nightingale, by H. Lenthall
Florence Nightingale, by H. Lenthall

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820. She was trained as a nurse at Kaiserwerth (1851) and Paris and in 1853 became superintendent of a hospital for invalid women in London. In response to God’s call and animated by a spirit of service, in 1854 she volunteered for duty during the Crimean War and recruited 38 nurses to join her. With them she organized the first modern nursing service in the British field hospitals of Scutari and Balaclava. By imposing strict discipline and high standards of sanitation she radically reduced the drastic death toll and rampant infection then typical in field hospitals. She returned to England in 1856 and a fund of £ 50,000 was subscribed to enable her to form an institution for the training of nurses at St. Thomas’s Hospital and at King’s College Hospital. Her school at St. Thomas’s Hospital became significant in helping to elevate nursing into a profession. She devoted many years to the question of army sanitary reform, to the improvement of nursing and to public health in India. Her main work, Notes on Nursing, 1859, went through many editions.

An Anglican, she remained committed to a personal mystical religion which sustained her through many years of poor health until her death in 1910. Until the end of her life, although her illness prevented her from leaving her home, she continued in frequent spiritual conversation with many prominent church leaders of the day, including the local parish priest who regularly brought Communion to her. By the time of her death on August 13, 1910, her reputation as a healer and holy person had assumed mythical proportions, and she is honored throughout the world as the founder of the modern profession of nursing.

Collect of the Day

Life-giving God, you alone have power over life and death, over health and sickness: Give power, wisdom, and gentleness to those who follow the lead of Florence Nightingale, that they, bearing with them your presence, may not only heal but bless, and shine as lanterns of hope in the darkest hours of pain and fear; through Jesus Christ, the healer of body and soul, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Isaiah 58:6–11

1 Corinthians 12:4–11

Luke 5:4–11

Psalm 73:23–29

Preface of a Saint (1)

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

12 thoughts on “August 12: Florence Nightingale, Nurse, Social Reformer, 1910

  1. “By the time of her death on August 13, 1910, her reputation as a healer and holy person had assumed mythical proportions..” Could this sentence be revised? Suzanne has more than once written cautionary notes about relying on myth and legend to honor someone as a saint. Perhaps the phrase “holy person” and the references to Florence Nightingale’s “personal mystical religion” appeal to some as a reason to include her in “Holy Women, Holy Men,” but I personally find them detracting from the saintly actions she did perform, her life of prayer, and that reference in the collect of her “shining lanterns of hope in the darkest hours of pain and fear.” I wonder why the fact that she actually did carry a lantern late at night checking on the well being of patients isn’t included in the bio.

  2. Obviously Florence Nightingale is a significant person who in many way deserves emulation. I remember well the fight about including her in LFF and was quite happy wheh she was restored after a rejection. As with any saint, you don’t have to believe all te myths to recognize their sanctity..

  3. I would add in line 1, after “Italy,” “to a wealthy English family”.

    In line 2, the name of this small Rhine town is mis-spelled: it is “Kaiserswerth”. The name will mean nothing to most Americans without further explanation. Perhaps, because the “Germany” of today didn’t exist, the writer avoided that word.

    One could add “near Düsseldorf'”. Another possibility might be to add “on the Rhine, in what is now part of Germany.”

    It might add an item of interest to TEC members to mention, after “Kaiserswerth” “, where she wore the simple uniform of a Deaconess, completing her training there in 1851”, deleting the parentheses.

  4. Nigel – what’s the meaning of ‘deaconness’ in your note ? Lutheran or other ? How does/might this relate
    to English/British nurses being called ‘sisters’ ?

    Dr Mitchell- could you sum up the “fight” and refusal to include her the first time ? How were the objections resolved ?

    Thank you both — Dick Lewis

  5. The personal mystical religion is a little troubling. The Gospel reading is the weakest of the lessons for this holy woman.

  6. A life of service and love even through pain and suffering in her later life. Truly a holy woman that I can look up to and try to live my life like she did.

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