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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Florence Nightingale

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Matters grew from bad to worse. William Howard Russell, the Times correspondent, wrote home to England: "It is now pouring rain,--the skies are black as ink,--the wind is howling over the staggering tents,--the trenches are turned into dykes,--in the tents the water is sometimes a foot deep,--our men have not either warm or waterproof clothing,--they are out for twelve hours at a time in the trenches,--they are plunged into the inevitable miseries of a winter campaign,--and not a soul seems to care for their comfort, or even for their lives. These are hard truths, but the people of England must hear them. They must know that the wretched beggar who wanders about the streets of London in the rain, leads the life of a prince, compared with the British soldiers who are fighting out here for their country.

"The commonest accessories of a hospital are wanting; there is not the least attention paid to decency or cleanliness; the stench is appalling; the fetid air can barely struggle out to taint the atmosphere, save through the chinks in the walls and roofs; and, for all I can observe, these men die without the least effort being made to save them. There they lie, just as they were let gently down on the ground by the poor fellows, their comrades, who brought them on their backs from the camp with the greatest tenderness, but who are not allowed to remain with them. The sick appear to be tended by the sick, and the dying by the dying."

During the rigorous winter of 1854, with snow three feet thick, many were frozen in their tents. Out of nearly forty-five thousand, over eighteen thousand were reported in the hospitals. The English nation became aroused at this state of things, and in less than two weeks seventy-five thousand dollars poured into the Times office for the suffering soldiers. A special commissioner, Mr. Macdonald, was sent to the Crimea with shirts, sheets, flannels, and necessary food.

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But one of the greatest of all needs was woman's hand and brain, in the dreadful suffering and the confusion. The testimony of the world thus far has been that men everywhere need the help of women, and women everywhere need the help of men. Right Honorable Sydney Herbert, the Secretary of War, knew of but one woman who could bring order and comfort to those far-away hospitals, and that woman was Miss Nightingale. She had made herself ready at Kaiserwerth for a great work, and now a great work was ready for her.

But she was frail in health, and was it probable that a rich and refined lady would go thousands of miles from her kindred, to live in feverish wards where there were only men? A true woman dares do anything that helps the world.

Mr. Herbert wrote her, Oct. 15: "There is, as far as I know, only one person in England capable of organizing and directing such a plan, and I have been several times on the point of asking you if you would be disposed to make the attempt. That it will be difficult to form a corps of nurses, no one knows better than yourself.... I have this simple question to put to you: Could you go out yourself, and take charge of everything? It is, of course, understood that you will have absolute authority over all the nurses, unlimited power to draw on the government for all you judge necessary to the success of your mission; and I think I may assure you of the co-operation of the medical staff. Your personal qualities, your knowledge, and your authority in administrative affairs, all fit you for this position."

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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