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Museum Makeover

A young girl gazes in fascination at Florence Nightingale’s lamp. A boy hunts for images of Nightingale’s pet owl Athena. Two adults use touch screens to explore elements of Nightingale’s life.

It’s just another day at the Florence Nightingale Museum in London on the grounds of St. Thomas’ Hospital, where she established the first Nightingale Training School for Nurses. The refurbished museum reopened May 12, just in time for Nightingale’s centenary, the 100th anniversary of her death.

Eclectic Collection

The museum features three pavilions that tell the story of Nightingale, the world of the Victorians and Nightingale’s impact on nursing.

The Gilded Cage pavilion describes Nightingale’s privileged childhood and struggle against stifling social conventions of the time.

The Calling pavilion explains the ways in which Nightingale and her team coped with the crisis in Turkish military hospitals where the legend of the “Lady with the Lamp” was born.

The Reform and Inspire pavilion shows the other side of Nightingale — the reformer who campaigned tirelessly for the health of others at home and abroad.

Collection highlights include the writing slate Nightingale used as a child and the famous Turkish lamp she carried in the Crimean War.

Museum director Caroline Worthington points to two personal favorites.

“I am always moved by Florence’s medicine chest, which still has all the jars of medicines and powders she selected for the trip to the Crimea, along with a set of scales to weigh the medicine out,” she says.

“We also have on loan to us a copy of Florence’s will,” Worthington says. “I find it a fascinating document because Florence depended on an allowance from her father and the interest from investments during her long life. Her will tells us that she left a sizeable sum, £36,000, mainly to members of her extended family. She also instructed Henry Bonham Carter, her nephew and the secretary of the Nightingale Fund, to destroy her papers after her death, other than those on India. Fortunately, he disobeyed her instructions.”

Interactivity Enhances Experience

An innovated piece of art: a bed made from paper, including pages from Nightingale’s seminal work “Notes on Nursing.”

At the renovated museum, interactivity meets history to create an experience for both adults and children.

“For the first time. our visitors are able to interact with Florence and her story,” Worthington says. “As a young woman she devised a word game, which she sent to her sister Parthenope to play, challenging her to make as many words as possible from one word: ‘breathe.’ Visitors can pit themselves against Florence by leaving their words on a blackboard.”

Later in life, Nightingale was an ardent campaigner for healthcare and hygiene, and the museum pays tribute to her convictions. By using an ultraviolet light, “Visitors of all ages can see just how unclean their hands are and then learn to wash them following the steps that nurses are taught,” Worthington says.

The museum also boasts new digital experiences that help visitors delve deeper into topics that interest them.

“For example, touch-screen technology lets you explore photographs, sounds, maps, film and the personal stories of characters ranging from Tolstoy to Crimean War nurses,” Worthington says. “We’ve also created a digital version of the Register of Nurses, which enables visitors to follow the lives of a selection of the nurses who started their careers during the Crimean War.”

New Artwork

The museum commissioned modern art to help tell Nightingale’s story, including a video installation that recreates her famous comment about walking 5 miles around the wards in Scutari every night.

“Another piece pays homage to the hugely influential letter-writing campaigns she undertook from her bed,” Worthington says. The artist Susan Stockwell created a bed from paper, the outer layers of which are from the books “Notes on Nursing” by Nightingale and “Florence Nightingale,” a biography by Cecil Woodham-Smith.

Fun for Children

In one interactive exhibit, children at the Florence Nightingale Museum use a stethoscope to hear Nightingale tell her story.

Young children can participate in an “I Spy” game by keeping on the lookout for Nightingale’s pet owl Athena, which she rescued while visiting Athens, Greece. The owl became her constant companion, traveling everywhere in her pocket.

“There is a series of cartoons positioned at a low level, which children are encouraged to look out for,” Worthington says. “They are seen through peepholes, which tell Florence’s story for little ones.”

Children can hear Nightingale’s story in her own words through audio “hot spots” around the museum. They receive a stethoscope and look for special lights around the museum. “When they touch the stethoscope to the lights, they hear Florence tell her story,” Worthington says. The tour was designed for 7- to 11-year-olds, but adults enjoy it, too, she adds.

Other activities for children include opening Nightingale’s trunk to discover a replica Scutari hospital sash worn by nurses, a bedpan, a roll of bandages and even a stump pillow used by amputees.

Beyond Nightingale

In addition to Nightingale, the museum features other nurses. For example, the story of Mary Seacole, a contemporary of Nightingale’s from Jamaica who also served in the Crimean War, is told through a newly commissioned film. Visitors are encouraged to explore her story through a drawer that contains the herbs Seacole used for remedies.

A ribbon of images and films wraps around the museum, detailing Nightingale’s legacy to nursing today.

“We have also commissioned three new films in which nurses talk about their careers,” Worthington says. “There are those who came to the U.K. in the 1950s … and experienced racism, those who nursed during wartime and have been on tour in Afghanistan and Iraq and those who tell us why they chose to become nurses today.”

A Special Year

“This being the centenary year, we want to attract 100 centenary patrons who will be remembered in the foyer of the new museum,” Worthington says. “It will be a beautiful way to thank someone who has inspired you. Nurses or others can remember anyone who has played an important role in their lives, including relatives, friends, a nurse, a teacher, a professor, someone who has influenced their careers or someone they admire. We’ve already had inquiries from people who wish to nominate a colleague as a retirement present, which I think is a lovely idea.” A donation of £1,000 ($1,500) is required for inclusion.

“Florence has inspired so many men and women to join a profession which we all rely on,” Worthington says. “It’s fascinating to see that the issues she tackled, such as hospital hygiene, caring for soldiers and the training of nurses, are still hugely relevant today.”

Visit the Florence Nightingale Museum online at

By | 2020-04-15T14:39:13-04:00 June 28th, 2010|Categories: National|0 Comments

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