4 min read

Beyond the Lady of the Lamp: The photograph of 86-year-old Florence Nightingale 2

a photo of an elderly woman in bed

Florence Nightingale in bed at South Street, aged 86. Courtesy the Press Office

The Florence Nightingale Museum is moving beyond the Crimean War to celebrate the 200 year anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale

Beyond her famous exploits transforming nursing care for wounded soldiers in Scutari during the Crimean War, the following 50 years of Florence Nightingale’s life are often glossed over in favour of the compelling narrative of the national heroine.

But most historians now agree that it was in later life that she really transformed healthcare and inspired generations of nurses. This photograph of Nightingale, aged 86 in 1905/6 in her bed at her home in London’s South Street, perfectly captures the boundless energy and determination – in the face of illness and infirmity – that she showed in her life beyond the ‘Lady of the Lamp’.

Nightingale became a tireless campaigner and used statistics, infographics, research and evidence to physically change the design and structure of hospitals and their working practices in ways which remain today: architecturally, in ward design and set-up, in nurse training, hygiene practices, infection control, evidence-based healthcare, and the compassionate treatment of patients.

Yet throughout this industrious period much of her writing, analysis of statistics and cajoling of medical experts and establishment figures took place amid spells of fever, insomnia, exhaustion and depression.

The photograph is just one of 200 objects selected by the Florence Nightingale Museum to celebrate 200 years since her birth on May 12 1820.

a photo of a concertina lantern style lamp

The object that led to the birth of a legend. Nightingale’s lamp which she used in the Crimea.

a print of Florence Nightingale in the hospital

Florence Nightingale at Scutari Hospital.

a photo of an apron and sash

The first nurses uniform with Scutari hospital sash designed by Nightingale.

Opening in March 2020 the exhibition promises to reveal the true character, obsessions and achievements of the nurse who continues to be an international household name two centuries after her birth, presenting a fully-rounded picture of Nightingale as the visionary reformer, tireless campaigner and inspirational world leader in her field.

“Our exhibition is designed to surprise people whose knowledge of Florence Nightingale doesn’t go much beyond the ‘Lady with the Lamp’,” says David Green, Director of Florence Nightingale Museum.

“Florence’s international fame endures because her achievements were utterly transformative. She was a powerful combination of fierce intelligence, acute scientific and analytical acumen, practical nous, the art of persuasion, human warmth and empathy, restlessness and irritability, and almost superhuman levels of energy.”

Florence Nightingale Museum holds the world’s leading collection of material related to Florence and sits within the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital, whose design was hugely influenced by her and which opened the first Nightingale School for training nurses in her honour in 1860.

“Her legacy is clear at St Thomas’ Hospital, on the site of the Museum, in the design of its wards, its Next Generation Nightingale Training Programme and in the actual work of the NHS nurses,” adds Green. “In short, she deserves the acclaim which we are delighted to offer her in her bicentenary year.”

a photo of a woman in crocheted headscarf and dark clothes

Florence Nightingale with her letters at South Street.

a decorated writing chest with fruit tableaux decoration

Florence Nightingale’s writing chest.

The exhibition does however begin with her role during the Crimean War, which saw her propelled to fame, but uses it as the beginning of the story of how she used the remainder of her life to revolutionise nursing with boundless determination, whilst battling her own difficulties.

Among the key exhibits is the source of the Nightingale myth, the ‘lamp’ (actually a Turkish lantern) carried by Nightingale during the Crimean War, as well as her medicine chest, containing glass jars of ‘domestic’ remedies.

Her highly-decorated writing case offers a chance to highlight the 14,000 letters and 200 publications she penned, and the door knocker from her Mayfair home is a reminder that even when she was ill, Nightingale requested that people visit her, often in order that she could harangue them.

Other treasures include a family album belonging to Florence’s cousin, Henry Nicholson, containing unseen sketches of Florence and the Nightingale family; the first nursing uniform, featuring the Scutari Sash designed by Nightingale; an audio recording of her voice, and her own copy of Oliver Twist. Charles Dickens was a friend, and one of the many Victorians impressed enough by her exploits in the Crimea to send supplies to Scutari.

The exhibition is part of #Nightingale2020, a year-long celebration of Florence. Among the Museum’s events are a national touring pop-up exhibition, a lamp-lit wreath-laying at the Florence Nightingale statue in Waterloo Place, a celebratory Evensong service at St Paul’s Cathedral and new programmes of schools events and family activities at the Museum.

a photo of a medicine chest with glass bottles

Florence Nightingale’s medicine chest.

Nightingale in 200 Objects, People & Places: Leader, Icon and Pioneer is at the Florence Nightingale Museum from March 8 2020 – March 7 2021. Follow the hashtag  #Nightingale2020


Florence Nightingale Museum

London, Greater London

Discover the woman behind the legend. Did you know? * Florence Nightingale did not want to become famous and disliked sitting for portraits or photographs * She struggled for years to persuade her parents to let her become a nurse * As well as caring for people, she loved animals…

2 comments on “Beyond the Lady of the Lamp: The photograph of 86-year-old Florence Nightingale

  1. John Ream on

    I doubt I’ll ever get to London again due to age and poor health but to see artifacts like those above is just wonderful. What about Florence’s writing box? How beautiful. JR.

  2. Maurice Hartle on

    I designed a Nurses window of Florence for the Veterans in Victoria BC and now resides in the Royal Jubilee Hospital before entering the Church. With permission I would like to take prints of her belongings and her photo and rest them along beside the window in the church, for all to see. If I could only go to England, this would be a dream of mine to see in person her Museum. Thank you for this display Sincerely Maurice


Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *