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Draw My Life: Florence Nightingale

Florence Nightingale was the founder of modern nursing, who loved statistics and was a bit of a celebrity! She was recently voted the 2nd most inspirational woman of all time!

Destined to be a nurse

Florence Nightingale was born in Florence, Italy in 1820. She moved to England when she was young and her father taught her a range of subjects, she soon realised she loved numbers best so she convinced her parents to let her study maths in more depth with some of the best mathematicians of the time.

When she was 17, she was convinced she had a calling from God, and decided it was her destiny to be a nurse. Her parents were horrified because they were a rich family and in those days, women in her position were supposed to get married, have children – and that was it! No chance of any career back then!

The Lady with the Lamp

Florence trained as a nurse and worked her way up to be manager of a women’s hospital in London. After the Crimean War broke out in 1853, she took a team of over 30 nurses and sailed to Turkey to look after the injured soldiers. The hospital they visited was filthy and full of rats whilst bandages were almost as scarce as soap. But Florence and her nurses soon cleaned up and made sure the soldiers were properly fed and clothed.

Florence spent her evenings wandering the hallways, with her lamp, tending the wounded, and a picture of her on one of those nights appeared in a newspaper, which led to people back in England finding out about her work. Songs and poems were written about her and this famous image started popping up everywhere – there were figurines, posters and even paper bags with her image on! She became one of the first real celebrities!

Statistics, statistics, statistics…

When she got back to the UK, she was convinced that many of the soldier’s deaths were preventable so she used maths to analyse the huge amounts of army data to find the extent of the problem. Sure enough, she found that more soldiers were dying from infections than from injuries in battles – in fact, 16,000 deaths could have been prevented with a just a bit of sanitation! Even though this number was shocking, Florence needed a way to clearly communicate the scale of the problem to the public.

She developed something called a rose diagram to represent the data – with the shaded areas representing deaths from wounds and the rest of the segments representing deaths from preventable diseases. It hit home – the public were horrified, which led to a huge overhaul in the sanitary conditions of hospitals.

Modern nursing is founded

While she was improving the health of patients, her own health got worse, and she caught a disease which left her bedridden for the remaining 40 years of her life. Despite this, she continued poring over data and calculating statistics. She wrote a book called Notes for Nursing and set up a nursing school in London which is still the number one place to study nursing in the UK today – Florence Nightingale School of Nursing and Midwifery. She even managed to use statistics to campaign for famine relief and improved sanitary conditions in India – even though she’d never been there!

Florence Nightingale used her knowledge of maths to save lives – what would you use maths to do?

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