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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Florence Nightingale

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It was a strange coincidence that on that same day, Oct. 15, Miss Nightingale, her heart stirred for the suffering soldiers, had written a letter to Mr. Herbert, offering her services to the government. A few days later the world read, with moistened eyes, this letter from the war office: "Miss Nightingale, accompanied by thirty-four nurses, will leave this evening. Miss Nightingale, who has, I believe, greater practical experience of hospital administration and treatment than any other lady in this country, has, with a self-devotion for which I have no words to express my gratitude, undertaken this noble but arduous work."

The heart of the English nation followed the heroic woman. Mrs. Jameson wrote: "It is an undertaking wholly new to our English customs, much at variance with the usual education given to women in this country. If it succeeds, it will be the true, the lasting glory of Florence Nightingale and her band of devoted assistants, that they have broken down a Chinese wall of prejudices,--religious, social, professional,--and have established a precedent which will, indeed, multiply the good to all time." She did succeed, and the results can scarcely be overestimated.

As the band of nurses passed through France, hotel-keepers would take no pay for their accommodation; poor fisherwomen at Boulogne struggled for the honor of carrying their baggage to the railway station. They sailed in the Vectis across the Mediterranean, reaching Scutari, Nov. 5, the day of the battle of Inkerman.

They found in the great Barrack Hospital, which had been lent to the British by the Turkish government, and in another large hospital near by, about four thousand men. The corridors were filled with two rows of mattresses, so close that two persons could scarcely walk between them. There was work to be done at once.

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One of the nurses wrote home, "The whole of yesterday one could only forget one's own existence, for it was spent, first in sewing the men's mattresses together, and then in washing them, and assisting the surgeons, when we could, in dressing their ghastly wounds after their five days' confinement on board ship, during which space their wounds had not been dressed. Hundreds of men with fever, dysentery, and cholera (the wounded were the smaller portion) filled the wards in succession from the overcrowded transports."

Miss Nightingale, calm and unobtrusive, went quietly among the men, always with a smile of sympathy for the suffering. The soldiers often wept, as for the first time in months, even years, a woman's hand adjusted their pillows, and a woman's voice soothed their sorrows.

Miss Nightingale's pathway was not an easy one. Her coming did not meet the general approval of military or medical officials. Some thought women would be in the way; others felt that their coming was an interference. Possibly some did not like to have persons about who would be apt to tell the truth on their return to England. But with good sense and much tact she was able to overcome the disaffection, using her almost unlimited power with discretion.

As soon as the wounded were attended to, she established an invalid's kitchen, where appetizing food could be prepared,--one of the essentials in convalescence. Here she overlooked the proper cooking for eight hundred men who could not eat ordinary food. Then she established a laundry. The beds and shirts of the men were in a filthy condition, some wearing the ragged clothing in which they were brought down from the Crimea. It was difficult to obtain either food or clothing, partly from the immense amount of "red tape" in official life.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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