Florence Nightingale Florence Nightingale was born into a wealthy and well-connected British family at the Villa Colombaia in Florence, Italy. She was named after the city of her birth, as was her older sister (named Parthenope, the Greek name for the city of Naples).
Inspired by what she understood to be a divine calling (first experienced in 1837 at the age of 17 at Embley Park and later throughout her life), Nightingale made a commitment to nursing. This decision demonstrated a strong will on her part; it constituted a rebellion against the expected role for a woman of her status, which was to become an obedient wife. At the time, nursing was a career with a poor reputation, filled mostly by poorer women, "hangers-on" who followed the armies; they were equally likely to function as cooks. Nightingale would announce her decision to enter nursing to her family in 1845, evoking intense anger and distress from her family, particularly her mother.
Nightingale was particularly concerned with the appalling conditions of medical care for the legions of the poor and indigent. In December 1844, in response to a pauper's death in a workhouse infirmary in London that became a public scandal, she became the leading advocate for improved medical care in the infirmaries and immediately engaged the support of Charles Villiers, then president of the Poor Law Board. This led to her active role in the reform of the Poor Laws, extending far beyond the provision of medical care.
In 1846 she visited Kaiserswerth, Germany, and learned more of its pioneering hospital established by Theodor Fliedner and managed by an order of Lutheran deaconesses. She was greatly impressed by the quality of medical care and by the commitment and practices of the deaconesses.
Nightingale was courted by politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton, but she rejected him, convinced that marriage would interfere with her ability to follow her calling to nursing. When in Rome in 1847, recovering from a mental breakdown precipitated by a continuing crisis of her relationship with Milnes, she met Sidney Herbert, a brilliant politician who had been Secretary at War (1845 - 1846), a position he would hold again (1852 - 1854) during the Crimean War. Herbert was already married, but he and Nightingale were immediately attracted to each other and they became life-long close friends. Herbert was instrumental in facilitating her pioneering work in Crimea and in the field of nursing, and she became a key advisor to him in his political career. In 1851 she rejected Milnes' marriage proposal, against her mother's wishes.
Nightingale's career in nursing began in earnest in 1851 when she received four months' training in Germany as a deaconess of Kaiserswerth. She undertook the training over strenuous family objections concerning the risks and social implications of such activity, and the Catholic foundations of the hospital. While at Kaiserswerth, she reported having her most important intense and compelling experience of her divine calling.
On August 12, 1853, Nightingale took a post of superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London, a position she held until October 1854. Her father had given her an annual income of ┬ú500 (roughly $50,000 in present terms) that allowed her to live comfortably and to pursue her career.