Foundation of The Nightingale Training School for Nurses

During the 19th century, particularly in the earlier half of the century, nursing was typically pursued by women who were in the working class or part of a religious sisterhood, and for those who partook in nursing, their role as a nurse was different from modern-day nurses. It was not until the establishment of the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in 1860 by Florence Nightingale that nurses received any formal medical education and that nursing was seen as a career. Before 1860, the role of a nurse was similar to that of a housemaid since nurses had little medical education beyond knowing how to make poultices (soft, hot, and medicated cloths that were applied on the body to treat aches, inflammation, and cuts) and their duties included keeping the rooms clean and attending to the patient’s needs (Hawkins 43).

            Nursing in the Victorian Era almost completely changed after the Crimean War (1853-1856). Between the Crimean War popularizing nursing and medical science of the time improving, there was a desire for nurses and a need for better training (Smith 233). From this came the secularization of nursing and the establishment of nursing as a career for women, led by Florence Nightingale, a British nurse, statistician, and social reformer. In her book Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not, Nightingale writes that “I use the word nursing for want of a better. It has been limited to signify little more than the administration of medicines and the application of poultices” (Skretkowicz 65). Nightingale had served as a nurse in the Crimean War and was an advocate for nursing as a career. She aimed to create a school that produced nurses who were educated and could teach others the profession (Smith 233). She believed that nurses should not work blindly but with intelligent obedience, and this was achieved by providing a balanced education of theoretical and moral training (Hawkins 78).

            And so, through funding from the Nightingale Fund, Nightingale began work on establishing the Nightingale Training School for Nurses at St. Thomas’ Hospital in London, the first-ever professional nursing school in the world (Hawkins 85). She played a large role in its development, overseeing sanitation, architecture, administration, and teaching. In her Notes on Nursing, she wrote that the hospital and the school “ought to signify the proper use of fresh air, light, warmth, cleanliness, quiet, and the proper selection and administration of diet—all at the least expense of vital power to the patient,” matters that, in the past, had been viewed as unnecessary (Skretkowicz 65). Because of this, every day sanitary knowledge and nursing needed to be taught in a higher place of education than the home, which is why this school was of high important to the reformation of nursing (Skretkowicz 45).

The school opened its doors on the 9th of July in 1860 to a small group of women and would take in and board classes of 20 to 30 women each year, certifying nearly 2,000 nurses by the end of the 19th century. The school had a policy of placing their trainees in provincial hospitals after their one year of intense training, which was a key strategy of Nightingale’s that helped shape modern nursing (Hawkins 142). Also at the school, for educating purposes, there was a division of the newly admitted students into two groups: nurse-probationers and lady-probationers. This distinction would define the degree of education they received and the career path the ladies went on. Nurse-probationers (the larger group) earned a small salary and trained for free, receiving a moderate education. Lady-probationers (the smaller group) received a higher standard of education, but got no salary and had to pay for their training and board (“The Nightingale Tradition” 126).

From its establishment, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses offered lectures on elementary sciences for all probationers and advanced lectures specifically for lady-probationers (Hawkins 78). Additionally, they went through hard manual labor while at the Nightingale Training School for Nurses, reporting to female superiors who could have come from any class before entering the school, even the lower class (Hawkins 144). These differing levels of education were necessary for two reasons. For one, not every woman who came to the school had the same prior education, so divisions were necessary for student success. And two, this helped prepared the two groups for the roles and careers they were expected to assume down the line: nurse-probationers as matrons and superintendents and lady-probationers as directors of new training schools (“The Nightingale Tradition” 126).

From this secular education came the “new nurse” who was young, respectable, well-educated, pure, and morally unimpeachable (Hawkins 35). This new idea of the female nurse and teachings of nursing would become the foundation for modern nursing. Because of this, Florence Nightingale would be regarded as the mother of modern nursing.

Works Cited:

Hawkins, Sue. “Nursing and Women’s Labour in the Nineteenth Century: The Quest for Independence.” Nursing and Women’s Labour in the Nineteenth Century, Routledge, 2010. DOI: 10.4324/9780203854464.

“The Nightingale Tradition.” The British Medical Journal, vol. 2, no. 5192, 1960, pp. 126–126. JSTOR,

Skretkowicz, Victor. Florence Nightingale’s Notes on Nursing: What It Is and What It Is Not & Notes on Nursing for the Laboring Classes: Commemorative Edition with Commentary. Springer, 2010.

Smith, Frances T. “Florence Nightingale: Early Feminist.” The American Journal of Nursing, vol. 81, no. 5, 1981, pp. 1021–1024. JSTOR,

Associated Place(s)

Event date:

Jul 1860