Published with Permission
Written by Katharine Trauger
Turning her back on wealth and marriage, loving the poor, pioneering in statistical graphics…who was this famous home scholar?
As a young wife, you rise early to arrange the daily tasks for your large housekeeping staff. Your three-story home with over twenty fireplaces needs someone to see about all that fuel and the accompanying ash and dust. Then there is the approaching holiday in Italy—you must plan for all who will attend you during the trip, as well as for those who will stay behind with the estate.
You are Frances Smith Shore, or, you would have been. However, your husband’s great uncle willed him all his wealth if he would but carry on the elderly man’s name and coat of arms. Who could know how prophetic this name change would become in the life of one of your daughters?
Your girls are born during your extended vacationing in Italy. How truly pretty they are becoming! When you imagine them gracefully moving among the elite of London, someday, turning heads with such beauty and wealth, your heart fills with pleasure.
At home in England, both daughters, so close in age, happily play in a house large enough to be a hospital, and learn their lessons privately from their daddy. He notices the younger daughter shows remarkable gifting in math, as he conscientiously tutors them in a classical education.
You both hope to prepare them to advance into any station in life.
Neither you nor your husband could have dreamed your baby girl would, at age 17, hear God calling her into a life work among the neediest, most desperate of the poor.
You teeter between anger and horror as you watch your cherished jewel tarnish herself with friendships among those who actually touch the homeless, filthy, diseased masses from the streets of London.
She claims she is learning science and medicine, but you watch her return home weary and smelling bad, and you dislike it. You cannot understand why she rejects the upper-class life.
By the time she is 25, you realize your rich and beautiful daughter is a notable worker among the poor, serving, not only in charity feeding and in nursing, but also in legal reform and training others.
You fear her lifework is nearly established. How far she has journeyed from your expectations that she would become popular in London!
For a brief time, you enjoy great excitement when a Baron proposes to her. She, however, says God has called her. Meanwhile, dread of your disappointment and of the Baron’s insistence nearly breaks her heart.
You watch in disbelief as she retreats to the company and support of her friends. Visiting and writing from various charities in Europe,Egypt, and India, she confirms her calling. What can you do except give your blessing and allow her an annual stipend? At first, she uses part of it to publish anonymously a book about the practical and spiritual lessons she has learned abroad.
As England faces war, your daughter engages a group of 38 volunteer staff—including your sister, her Aunt Mai—and travels to investigate the plight of the wounded. She finds the facts far worse than the rumors, with death and raw sewage stagnating in the basement of the hospital and ventilation passing over this brew and into the wards.
Horrified and angered, your daughter immediately prepares—and sends home—statistical charts to illustrate and enhance her pleas for funding.
Because of her insistence on applying the science of hygiene, giving necessary medicines to the army, and treating the whole patient, she is able, in six months, to reduce mortality from 42% to 2%.
Work does not seem to tire her.
The Times says of her, “When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”
Longfellow writes a poem, “Santa Filomena”, praising her.
Celebrity does not seem to spoil her.
Although she returns to England second only to Queen Victoria in popularity, she knows she has contracted brucellosis, a disease prevalent in the war hospital, and quarantines herself to a room in a hotel. From this room, at the Queen’s request, she establishes the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army, hand writing its over 1000-page report, complete with detailed statistics. Initially, her work leads to an overhaul of army medical care, an Army Medical School, and a system of army medical records.
Later she also provides, from her extensive knowledge, information on medical tourism for the poor. Spas and treatments she has found in Turkey are far less expensive than those in Switzerland.
Ever selfless, she begins reaping from her popularity the funds to establish scholarships, nurse training schools, and hospitals. By age 50, she is a published author of medical texts.
Her influence extends even to the United States during its Civil War and in her 60’s, she mentors an American nurse, training her to return home and establish nursing schools there.
She has the equivalent of $4,500,000 (current value) at her disposal and she puts it to good use. The list of hospitals and medical learning institutions that owe their existence to, or are named after, your daughter grows longer, annually. Working with Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, she even establishes the Women’s Medical College.
By the time she is 70, some of her nursing students are heads of nursing in leading hospitals of the day. Among her many worldwide honors is the Royal Red Cross and she becomes the first woman awarded the Order of Merit.
Who is your famous daughter?
Answer: Florence Nightingale, The beloved “Lady with the Lamp”, granddaughter of the abolitionist William Smith, founder and/or namesake for hospitals and medical schools worldwide, author of many books including Suggestions for Thought and Notes on Nursing (still in print), member of the Royal Statistical Society, honorary member of the American Statistical Society, winner of the Royal Red Cross and the Order of Merit, developer of the “Nightingale rose” and the “coxcomb” statistical diagrams, and home scholar.