When Florence Nightingale returned from the Crimea in 1856 her main preoccupation was with reforming the medical and sanitary regime of the Army. The idea of the Nightingale Fund, its application to nursing reform, and the development of the St Thomas’s scheme, discussed in this chapter, were all other people’s initiatives. But her talents as a publicist did as much as ever to focus attention on her own contribution and idealizations of nursing. Recent scholarship, has, however, begun to chip away the patina of a hundred years of legend to reveal the complex politics of nursing reform, the limitations of the St Thomas’s initiative and the heterogeneous origins of recruits to the occupation. In the process, it obliges us to reappraise the contribution of groups who are often placed on the margin by official historians of nursing, groups as diverse as the pauper nurses of the Poor Law and the VADs of the First World War. This chapter, then, will focus on education and practice from the late 1850s to 1919 in order to examine the social construction of an occupation and its imagery. Its legal construction, from the registration movement of the 1880s through the Nurses Registration Act 1919 to the formative work of the General Nursing Council, forms the topic of Chapter 5.
The Crimean War had made Florence Nightingale a national heroine. Popular songs were written about her, a cheap biography was produced and her image figured in numerous prints and figurines. There was even a racehorse named after her. At one level she disdained the publicity, refusing, for example, to allow an official portrait to be made for public reproduction. At another she was to use this reputation with skill, ruthlessness and cunning. One