When Judith Lissauer Cromwell started to research the life of Florence Nightingale, she didn’t find exactly what she expected.
Cromwell, whose book “Florence Nightingale, Feminist” was published in March, led a discussion during National Nurses Week at Phillips Beth Israel School of Nursing in Manhattan. Nightingale, who died in 1910 at age 90, was far more than the “Lady with the Lamp,” Cromwell said. She was a powerful influence for the independence of women.
“I found when I was doing my research, that from her youth on she identified and fought against an evil, what she called an evil in the world that women had no control over their lives, and she actually did something about it,” said Cromwell, who holds a doctorate in history from New York University. “She empowered women like herself, women who wanted a profession, women who wanted to use their brains, into being able to do that.”
Cromwell is a former Wall Street executive who left the business world to write her first book, “Dorothea Lieven: A Russian Princess in London and Paris, 1785-1857,” published in 2006. Just as she was finishing the Lieven book, she encountered a review of a collection of 200 of Nightingale’s more than 14,000 letters. She went to work researching Nightingale in New York and London libraries as well as at a country home in England – formerly owned by Nightingale’s sister and her husband – where family letters were preserved.
What emerged was a picture of a woman who essentially created a profession and the opportunity for a better life for women.
“She led in changing the concept of a hospital nurse from a drunken menial – and when she started out, that’s exactly what nurses were, they were the dregs of society – into a medical professional,” Cromwell said. “She did that through personal example, her work in the Crimean War that she’s most famous for, but also [through] assiduous attention to her eponymous nurse training school. Within a generation, her school made nursing accepted, respectable and a well-paid career for women at a time they had hardly any options as a way to earn their independence.”
Cromwell gave Phillips Beth Israel students three favorite Nightingale quotes, noting:
“When she was young, she said, ‘Resignation. I have never understood the word.'”
“Right after the Crimea, she said, ‘I attribute my success to this: I never gave nor took an excuse.’ The third is her advice to nurses: ‘The work that tells is the work of the skillful hand, directed by the cool head, and inspired by the loving heart.'”
John Grochowski is a copy editor.