Florence Nightingale Museum

By Magnello, M. Eileen | Nursing History Review, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Florence Nightingale Museum


Magnello, M. Eileen, Nursing History Review


Florence Nightingale Museum. Established and maintained by the Florence Nightingale Museum Trust. Located at St. Thomas' Hospital, London, United Kingdom. Permanent exhibition, opened 12 May 2010. Museum Director: Natasha McEnroe. Designer: Kossmanm.Dejong. http://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk

The Florence Nightingale Trust, created in 1982 to preserve, protect, and make Nightingale's artifacts, letters, and publications accessible to the public and scholars, established the Florence Nightingale Museum, designed by Robin Wade Design Associates and formally opened in February 1989 by Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra of Kent. To mark the centenary of Nightingale's death, the museum recently underwent modernization through a £1.4 million redevelopment fund and reopened, once again, by Princess Alexandra on May 12, 2010, to coincide with Nightingale's 190th birthday.

The redesigned museum features interactive and touch screen exhibits, films, and a creative program with various activities for children, including a word game that Nightingale invented. Although a hard copy of Nightingale's register of 222 nurses is in a glass cabinet, visitors can turn the pages electronically with the life-size digital register. The museum contains many of Nightingale's artifacts and paraphernalia, illustrations, portraits, and narrative placards. The aim of the refurbished museum is to deepen visitors' understanding of Nightingale's achievements by moving beyond the sentimental Victorian image of the ministering angel and to show the relevance of her ideas today.

Three pavilions provide a historically balanced account of Nightingale's life and work. The first, entitled "The Gilded Cage," discusses her privileged childhood and struggles against the stifling social constraints of Victorian England. The second pavilion, "The Calling," focuses on how Nightingale and her team coped with the chaotic and disease-ridden military hospitals in the Crimea. Her work on the health of the Indian army following the 1857 Indian Mutiny was also displayed in this pavilion. The last pavilion, "Reform and Inspire," addresses the public health, nursing, and army reforms that Nightingale undertook after her return to London from the Crimean War.

Featured also in the museum is a Jamaican nurse, Mary Jane Seacole, whose display includes a narrative and video about her role during the Crimean War, a photograph of her, and a medicine box containing some of the herbs she used, such as ginger, cinnamon, lemon grass, sage, vanilla, and licorice.

With so many of Nightingale's iconic objects on display, the museum has resolutely succeeded in bringing Nightingale to life. Highlights include one of her inimitable black dresses with white lace around the neck and cuffs; the lifelike expression of her pet owl Athena (stuffed after the owl's death); Alexis Soyer's specially constructed stove for use in the army; William White's 1836 portrait of Florence and her sister Parthenope, painted to show them as desirable brides for a gentleman; and a 19th-century Turkish lantern or famoos (artists have often mistakenly shown Nightingale holding a Greek or genie lamp instead). Many more items that belonged to Nightingale are presented, including her childhood lunch box, a pen and inkwell, a writing case, jewelry, and the medicine chest she took to the Crimean War, containing medicine for upset stomach and diarrhea, quinine for malaria, and ipecacuanha to treat dysentery. These objects are an embodiment of her life and work that should permit visitors to gain a sense of Nightingale as an indomitable and courageous woman who reformed and modernized nursing.

The only historiographical reference is a comment about Lytton Strachey's short biography of Nightingale in 1918, seen by many historians as an attempt to destroy the Nightingale myth. …

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