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Home > Blog > Author blog: ‘What did Florence do for us?’ / Kate Cunningham

Author blog: ‘What did Florence do for us?’ / Kate Cunningham


What did Florence do for us?

by Kate Cunningham, author of Vlad and the Florence Nightingale Adventure

Florence Nightingale was born on 12th May 1820. To celebrate the bicentenary, 2020 is the United Nations Year of the Nurse and Midwife, and 12th May is International Nurses Day. At the start of this year I expected to be involved in a lot of events around celebrating this, but so much has changed since March. Most of us are now at home and there are new pop-up hospitals with her name above the door. There are many reasons for naming them Florence Nightingale Hospitals, here are just ten things you may not know about her:

1. Keeping clean

“Never to fail in taking your own carbolic soap in your pocket” The most well-known fact about Florence is that she went out to Scutari Hospital during the Crimea War and cleaned it up. Scutari was not unusual as hospitals in general were disgustingly dirty. However, Florence was not trying to get rid of germs but thought disease was caused by miasma (foul air). Germ Theory was still being developed by scientists, such as Louis Pasteur, but luckily the solution to miasma was a good clean, and it worked for removing germs too. Years later she reviewed her ideas and accepted Germ Theory which was then taught to her nurses.

2. Looking after ‘incurables’ Many very sick patients were neglected as it was felt to be a waste of time to care for patients that were not going to get better. Florence went to great lengths to comfort patients, sitting and holding their hands and writing letters to their families. Her famous night walks with the lamp were part of her routine to check on all the men in Scutari. This core principle of nursing was important to Dame Cicely Saunders, herself a Nightingale Nurse, who established the hospice movement in the UK.

3. Using facts and statistics

“We want to know what we are doing in things which must be tested by results.” 1891 Once Florence returned from Scutari she set about gathering data to analyse why so many soldiers had died, and particularly why so many had succumbed to disease rather than battle wounds. She developed ‘coxcombs’, a form of pie chart that had layers of information showing patterns of information. Florence became the first woman to become a fellow of the Royal Statistical Society in 1858.

4. Nurse training In 1860 Florence Nightingale established a nursing school at St Thomas Hospital and in 1861 a training programme for midwives at King’s College Hospital. Previously there had been training for nurses in religious settings such as convents. The new school did not judge according to religious belief but chose students based on ability and character. There were strict rules about how nurses must behave. They had to be sober, honest, trustworthy, punctual, quiet, discreet, clean “to the point of exquisiteness” and think of others not themselves.

5. Hospital design Scutari Hospital had been built on an open sewer with descriptions of toilets that overflowed over the floors. The whole experience convinced Florence about the importance of good hospital design. She believed hospitals should have lots of space to prevent overcrowding, have large opening windows for ventilation and needed sinks on all wards to allow staff to clean themselves and their equipment.

6. Campaigns Florence worked on many projects over the years. She gathered and analysed evidence, lobbied MPs and used her connections, created media interest and provided money to try and get results. Amongst the projects she supported were quality healthcare for all (“royalty can take care of itself and poverty can’t”), workhouse infirmaries, creation of district nurses , military medical practices and famine relief and conditions in India.

7. The religious importance of work

“Do you believe that God’s word is not ‘pray’ but ‘work’?” 1857 In Florence’s opinion it was an “impertinence to God” to pray for deliverance from disasters. She was deeply religious and believed her faith should be shown by finding problems and solutions (through statistics) and then acting to solve the problem by whatever means was suitable (such as fixing the drains)

8. The patient ‘A prisoner to my bed’ During her time in Scutari Hospital Florence fell ill and for the next 54 years she was often bed ridden. However, she continued to work, admit some visitors, write letters and send out gifts to her nurses. It is thought that she had contracted Brucellosis which is caused by eating food and is treated now by a combination of antibiotics. During this time she relied on her cats for company, owning around 60 over the years.

9. Reluctant celebrity

“I would have to remove at once to go to quite another street.” Response to suggestion to name her street after her In 1856 Florence Nightingale was famous. She slipped back into Britain under a false name, unnoticed and unannounced. It was exactly how she wanted it. Despite hating the attention, she understood that it helped her causes and enabled her to establish The Nightingale Trust which funded many projects. Even her funeral was low key. Her family refused a burial at Westminster Abbey on her instruction and her gravestone in the family cemetery reads “F.N. Born 12 May 1820, Died 13 August 1910”.

10. Hatred of vermin

“Scene in Crimean hut … rat sitting on rafter over sick nun’s head and rats scrambling about. Enter me with a lantern in one hand and a broomstick in the other……Broomstick descends … enemy dead.” Admittedly this one is rather specific to my book. However, when I wrote the Vlad adventure the scene featuring Florence and Loxton the rat was an educated fictionalisation of how I believed she would behave. She really didn’t seem like the kind of person who would scream and stand on a chair when finding vermin. It was therefore very gratifying to find this quote after publication which proved I was right, although I couldn’t have brought myself to kill off Loxton, even for the sake of historical accuracy.

For images and information about Florence and her bicentenary you can visit



Vlad and the Florence Nightingale Adventure

Vlad the flea and Loxton the rat are perfectly at home in the dirt and filth of Scutari Hospital. But the arrival of Florence Nightingale and her strange companion changes everything. Will the friends be driven out or can they save the day? Find out about Florence, her nurses and Scutari Hospital through the eyes of Vlad the flea and Loxton the rat. Vlad narrates the tale as the nurses take charge and clean … with soap! But there are other people in the hospital who are not happy with this new arrangement, and the friends will soon come up against both their nemesis and a shadowy thief in their midst. Who will win and who will have to leave? A fact file at the end of the book clarifies which characters are real and which are fictional. There are 32 pages of colour illustrations bringing the story to life. Previous Vlad stories are set during the Great Fire of London and the First World War. Each story has a separate Activity Book with puzzles and games and the Reading Riddle website has links and educational resources for teaching the topic


You can order Vlad and the Florence Nightingale Adventure order Vlad and the Florence Nightingale Adventure online or from your local bookshop or library.

There is also an accompanying activity book.




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