Florence Nightingale: The Lady with the Lamp

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By Clare Bevanformer primary teacher and author

History, dull? Not anymore! Teach children about famous people from the past with this new series of plays and activities

Florence Nightingale

Facts about Florence

Florence Nightingale lived in Victorian times, but she is still famous for her nursing skills – and for her nickname: The Lady with the Lamp. This was earned at Scutari Military Hospital in 1854, during the Crimean War.

Before the children read or perform the play about Florence Nightingale’s life, they will need to know a few historical details. Collect as much visual material as you can, to show your class what life was like during Queen Victoria’s reign. Look at the clothes worn by Florence, nurses and soldiers. Explore maps, to find Turkey, Russia and The Black Sea. What a long way! How did the nurses get there, without cars or aeroplanes?

Discuss hospitals, and the causes of diseases – Scutari was horribly filthy and messy. The men had to use their own coats and boots as pillows and blankets. There were rats, mice, fleas and lice – and more soldiers were dying from infections than from injuries! Florence knew that everything should be as clean and tidy as possible, but she believed illnesses were carried by bad smells (miasma). So, although she saved many lives, she didn’t know about microscopic germs until she was much older. All the same, she understood that people needed kindness and care if they were to recover. That was why she walked around with her lamp at night, to comfort anyone who was sick or frightened.

In those days, nursing wasn’t considered a respectable occupation for a lady. However, Florence gave the profession a brand new image, and dressed her nurses in smart, hygienic uniforms. She also worked for 20 hours a day! (In fact, she wasn’t the only woman to save the lives of Victorian soldiers. Children will also be interested to hear about Mary Seacole, another brave and dedicated nurse.)

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