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Florence Nightingale Facts for Kids

Florence Nightingale Facts for Kids

The 12th of May this year is the 201st anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. How much do you know about ‘the lady with the lamp’?! Read our Florence Nightingale Facts for Kids blog to find out more about this remarkable Victorian woman.


Florence Nightingale, c.1860
Florence Nightingale, c. 1860

When was Florence Nightingale born?

Florence Nightingale was born in 1820 into a wealthy family. She was named after the city she was born in - Florence, in Italy. Her family moved back to Britain in 1821. Growing up, she led a very privileged life, having servants to attend to her needs, and going to frequent parties. In the Victorian era, girls from rich families like the Nightingales were expected to get married, and spend their days looking after the home and children, with some occasional charity work. However, Florence had other ideas… 

What did Florence Nightingale do?

Florence decided not to get married. She was deeply religious and believed that God wanted her to do important work. In 1844, she announced she was going to become a nurse. Her parents were horrified by this decision. At that time, hospitals were dirty, horrible places. Doctors performed operations with no anaesthetic (a substance that doctors now use to stop a patient feeling pain). Most people who went to hospital died there. Nurses were rarely trained, and it was not seen as a respectable profession.

Despite the anger and distress of her family, Florence did not change her mind, and worked hard to educate herself about nursing. In 1851, she attended a Christian nursing school in Germany for three months. It was hard work, but she loved it. In 1853, she was asked by a friend to run a hospital in London that cared for sick ‘gentlewomen’. Florence received no money for doing this, but was able to put the nursing skills she had learnt into practice, and made lots of useful changes to the way the hospital was run.

What did Florence Nightingale do in the Crimean War?

In the same year, the Crimean War began. Great Britain, France and Turkey were at war with Russia in a dispute over land. Reports in the papers told of appalling conditions in the hospitals of Turkey, where those wounded in battle were sent to be treated. More soldiers were dying from the diseases they caught in the hospital than in the battles they were fighting. 

Sidney Herbert, who was the Minister of War - but also a friend of Florence - asked her to take a team of nurses to Turkey to try to improve the conditions there. In 1854, she and 38 volunteer nurses travelled to Scutari Hospital. The conditions that they found there were terrible. There were not enough beds for all of the soldiers, and many lay on the dirty floor. Their bandages were filthy, they had no clean water and only mouldy bread to eat. There were no proper toilets, and rats were everywhere. A horrible smell hung in the air. The soldiers were hungry, cold and in pain.

How did Florence Nightingale change Scutari Hospital?

Florence and her team immediately set to work. They cleaned the kitchens, and Florence hired a chef to cook better meals for the patients. She began a laundry to ensure that clothes and bedding were kept clean. The patients were washed, and their bandages were clean and changed regularly. She made sure that everyone washed their hands frequently.


Illustration of Florence Nightingale working in Scutari Hospital
Illustration of Florence Nightingale working in Scutari Hospital


Florence worked for up to 20 hours a day. At night, she walked around the wards with a lantern, making sure that the men were comfortable, and helping them to write letters home. This is how she became known as ‘the lady with the lamp’. Due to all of her interventions, Florence helped to reduce the death rate in the hospital dramatically. 

How did Florence Nightingale change nursing?

When the war was over in 1856, she returned home a national hero. Florence had been shocked by the conditions in Scutari, and once home, began a campaign to improve the quality of nursing in all military hospitals. She conducted lots of research about food, death rates and doctors’ training, and wrote lots of letters to important people trying to persuade them that change was needed. 

In 1857 she presented her research to the Sanitary Commission, which led to the Army Medical College being set up in Chatham in 1859. As a result of Florence’s work, the army began training doctors, hospitals became cleaner, and soldiers received better food and clothes.

In 1860, with the money she received from the government for her services during the Crimean War, she helped to found the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses in London. It was one of the first places to teach nursing as a formal profession. Thanks to Florence, nursing was now seen as a respected and honourable career.

When did Florence Nightingale die?

Florence Nightingale died on 13th August in 1910, aged 90. Respecting her wishes, her family held a small, quiet funeral for her, despite the offer of an official burial in Westminster Abbey.

What is Florence Nightingale’s legacy?

Florence Nightingale’s devotion to nursing has inspired, and continues to inspire, nurses around the world. She is often regarded as the founder of modern nursing. International Nurses Day is celebrated every May 12, to mark the anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth, and celebrate the important contributions that the nursing profession continues to make to society.

The importance of frequently washing hands, one aspect of nursing that Florence insisted on, is still very much relevant today, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. The seven emergency NHS Nightingale hospitals that were opened in response to this were named after Florence. The improvements she made to both nursing and the running of hospitals back in the 19th century have helped us to cope with the current pandemic today.


Statue of Florence Nightingale in London
Statue of Florence Nightingale in London


10 Fascinating Facts about Florence Nightingale:

  • Florence developed an interest in helping others from an early age. As a child, she cared for sick pets and servants whenever she had the chance.
  • Florence was well-educated and could speak French, German and Italian.
  • Florence had an older sister called Parthenope (affectionately known as ‘Pop’). Whilst at first she was opposed to Florence’s decision to become a nurse, she later became a supporter of her sister’s work during the Crimean War.
  • When travelling home from Turkey, Florence gave her name as ‘Miss Smith’, so no one knew who she was - she didn’t want a fuss.
  • In 1856 she met with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, discussing with them her time in Scutari, and her ideas for improving the military hospitals in Britain. 
  • By the time she was 38, she was bedridden for most of her days due to an infection she never completely recovered from. 
  • In 1859 Florence published a book called Notes on Nursing. At 76 pages long, it was full of hints and tips on nursing, for both nurses and the ‘ordinary woman’.
  • In 1870, Florence supported the founding of the British Red Cross, and gave advice on nursing and running hospitals.
  • In 1907, Florence was awarded the Order of Merit (this is a special award given by the ruling King or Queen) for her work and services in the development of nursing. This was the first time a woman had received the honour.
  • Here is a quote from Florence Nightingale: ‘I attribute my success to this - I never gave or took any excuse.’


If you are looking for lessons about ‘the lady with the lamp’, check out PlanBee’s ‘Florence Nightingale’ History scheme of work for Year 2, or the lesson focusing on Florence Nightingale in our British History Heroes scheme of work for Year 3 and Year 4.

We also have a FREE ‘Pictures of Florence Nightingale Display Pack’ for you to download.

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