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Published January 20th 2013
Nurses in this Museum but no Nightingales
The Florence Nightingale Museum (attached to St Thomas' Hospital) is a place that works on several levels. It offers interesting information, combined with a host of exhibits, for all ages. There are reminders everywhere of ways in which nurses have been portrayed in literature and advertisements and of how hospitals and wards have changed over the last 150 years. You can watch short films: a particularly apt one that caught my attention was of a nurse describing how the care of her patients was what mattered most of all. Such a contrast from the newspaper reports of indifferent staff, who have no compassion nor time to pay attention to the sick in their care.
Nurses Training at St Thomas' in the Twentieth Century
The museum is divided into three sections. The green area is of Florence's early life, the blue depicts her time nursing in the Crimea, and the brown illustrates her life after 1858 when she returned back to England.
If you are lucky enough to visit alongside a primary school party, you will get an opportunity to meet the Lady with the Lamp herself. The member of staff dressed as Florence fills the children in on her life, her calling and her struggles with her parents for permission to become a nurse. She explains about the conditions she encountered in Scutari, where she set up her hospital, and goes on to describe her life when she returned back to England, including the establishment of the Nightingale Training School (for nurses) at St Thomas' in 1860.
Florence in her Sitting Room
1896 Probationer Nurse's Uniform
Until she started to train nurses, most of them were drunken, working class women, such as Sarah Gamp from Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit. She devised uniforms and brought in strict rules for the ladies who worked with her. Her experience was drawn from time spent in Germany in a convent, where the nursing sisters taught her about dressings, medicine, amputations and caring for the sick and dying. In total, 229 nurses worked with her in Scutari, and notes and information on all of them can be seen in her Register, which is on display in the museum. At night she walked the four miles of wards, keeping an eye on her patients, and reassuring them. You can listen to a recreation of the sound of her footsteps as well as see, what is believed to be, her lamp. Not the lamp we all imagine, but a Turkish lantern, or fanoos.
The museum welcomes pre-booked groups and school parties and runs a programme of weekly events. There is a great deal of information on the website, including historical facts that are not covered in the museum.