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Nightingale in 200 Objects, People and Places

An exhibition at the Florence Nightingale Museum, in the basement of St Thomas’s Hospital, London celebrates the bicentenary of the birth of the founder of nursing in 1820.

Celebrate the 200 year Anniversary of the birth of the founder of nursing by visiting an exhibition: Nightingale in 200 Objects, People and Places, at the Florence Nightingale Museum, London until 7th March 2021

A hidden gem in the grounds of St Thomas’s Hospital, London this small museum tells the story of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing. One of our greatest Victorians and a female icon in her own lifetime, Nightingale was born in 1820 so throughout her bicentenary year in 2020 there will be a series of events, including an exhibition Nightingale in 200 Objects, People and Places: Leader, Icon and Pioneer at the Florence Nightingale Museum to celebrate. When she died in 1910, aged ninety, Nightingale was a living legend as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’, but she was also a healthcare pioneer, an influential statistician and a leader. This thoughtful exhibition delves into the woman behind the legend and reveals her many talents and achievements, as well as her flaws and why we remember her today. There are plenty of interactive exhibits which makes it an ideal place to take the kids for half-term

Many of the objects on display were owned by Florence Nightingale. Visitors to the museum travel through three pavilions taking them through different stages of Nightingale’s extraordinary life, from her Victorian childhood to the Crimean War and finally her years as a passionate campaigner.

Among the highlights on display are the actual medicine chest, lamp and writing case carried by Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War, her pet owl Athena (now stuffed) and her first self-designed nursing uniform and much more. The medicine chest contains medicines such as quinine to treat malaria and carbonate of potassium for fever. It also contains a tiny set of scales and measures and a glass beaker for measuring liquids. You can also see a family album containing unseen sketches of Nightingale and her family and her much-thumbed copy of Oliver Twist. The writer Charles Dickens was a friend who sent supplies to Scutari and also helped to pay for new laundry equipment at Scutari Hospital. They shared a mutual interest in social and economic reform.

On returning from the battlefields of Scutari Nightingale opened the Nightingale Nursing School in St Thomas’s and the Florence Nightingale Museum is located on the original site of the school, preserving her clothing, furniture, books, letters and portraits – including her pet owl, Athena.

Most artefacts in the Museum’s collection were gathered by Dame Alicia Lloyd-Still during her time as Matron of St Thomas’s Hospital (1913-1937). Her collection was then held by the Nightingale Training School at St Thomas where it was known as the ‘Nightingalia’. One of the more unusual artefacts housed in the museum is ‘Jimmy the Tortoise’. Surprising to those of us working in hospitals today, some of the soldiers in the hospitals at Scutari were allowed to keep pets. Nightingale loved animals and believed they could help patients recover more quickly and keep their spirits up. One such animal was a tortoise called Jimmy, and Nightingale nostalgically kept his shell. She wrote that “a small pet is often an excellent companion for the sick” in her book ‘Notes on Nursing’.

During her lifetime Nightingale received several marriage proposals from distinguished men. Although she came close to accepting the politician and poet Richard Monckton Milnes, she eventually turned him down in 1849, much to her parents’ disappointment. Another accomplished suitor was Sir Harry Verney, a soldier and Liberal politician who sat in the House of Commons variously between 1832 and 1885. When he proposed to her she also declined, but instead introduced him to her sister Parthenope, and the couple married the following year. Nightingale never married preferring to devote her life to her work, her family and many godchildren.

Florence Nightingale’s extraordinary achievement continues to inspire new generations of nurses around the world and throughout her bicentenary there will be celebrations from London to Canada and the USA to Italy.

Visiting this little gem of a museum this autumn to see these historic artefacts many of which belonged to the ‘Lady with the Lamp’ is bound to fascinate old and young alike.

Nightingale in 200 Objects, People and Places: Leader, Icon and Pioneer (Until 7th March 2021) at The Florence Nightingale Museum, St Thomas’s Hospital, 2 Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7EW

Admission to the exhibition is free with paid Museum admission

Opening times: Thursdays to Sundays 10.15am to 4.30pm

Located at parking level in the grounds of St Thomas’s Hospital https://www.florence-nightingale.co.uk

Rebecca Wallersteiner

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