Thoughts on Nursing

There were many parties during the summer, at Embley, and it was during this time Florence met Lord Palmerston and his wife Lady Emily Courper. They lived at Broadlands, only a few miles away from Embley.

In the summer of 1842, at a party given by the Palmerston’s, Florence was introduced to Richard Monckton Milnes. He came to Embley often that summer and was falling in love with Florence. The family were very fond of him. He proposed to her, and waited until 1849 for an answer, he could wait no longer, Florence refused him. In 1851 he became engaged to Annabel Crewe. It was during this summer that Florence became aware of life outside of hers. It was known as the hungry forties, there was hunger in towns and villages. Workhouses, hospitals and prisons were overflowing. When the family returned to Lea Hurst in 1843, she became concerned for the poor and sick of Holloway. Holloway was a village containing agricultural workers, and weavers. She could not believe the conditions they lived in, and begged her mother for food, bedding and clothes. Fanny was always generous in her charity for the village, and although she felt it was good for her daughter to see those less fortunate, Florence was being unreasonable. Florence was unhappy with her life, she felt that marrying and running a household would not satisfy her, she needed more. ‘Her call from God’ was now realised and she felt her vocation lay in hospitals, and the sick. She was now twenty-four.

She now needed to find a way to achieve her vocation; it would not be easy. It was not felt suitable for a person of her up bringing. Florence knew Dr Fowler, who was head physician at Salisbury Infirmary. She planned to persuade her parents to allow her to go there for three months to learn nursing. Dr Fowler and his wife came to stay at Embley in December 1845. Florence spoke of her plan, it was not received well. Fanny felt it most unsuitable, William could not accept his daughters wishes. That she wanted to take on such a vocation after all that he had taught her. The whole idea to them was most unsuitable. Hospitals then were not as they are today, most people were nursed in their own home, and as a last resort would be in a hospital. Wards were normally dark and gloomy, with a fire at one end for warmth. Beds were crammed together, often dirty, the sheets were used by more that one person, mattresses seldom cleaned. It was not only the conditions of the hospitals that her parents disapproved of, but the nurses themselves, who were not high standing in society. It was practically unknown for a respectable woman to become a hospital nurse. They worked, cooked and slept on the wards, some even sharing the bed of male patients. There was little discipline of supervision; many were drunkards, including the sisters. It was not surprising that Florence received such opposition.

Florence would not give in, and began to study in secret, Blue Books, and hospital reports. Blue Books had been published, dealing with public health. She would get up early to study. She also wrote to M. Mohl in Paris, for reports. This would lay the foundation of the vast and detailed knowledge of sanitary conditions, which was to make her the first expert in Europe. In October 1846, she received the Year Book of the Institute of the Deaconesses at Kaiserwerth, from Chevalier Bunsen, who she had met in 1842. Florence decided that this would be the place where she could receive training in nursing. Deaconesses and pastors formed the staff, discipline and supervision was strict.


In the autumn of 1846 Florence met Selina Bracebridge. She was the wife of Charles Holte Bracebridge of Atherstone Hall, near Coventry. They loved to travel. Fanny felt that Selina would be a good influence on Florence, she was rich, loved to entertain, and perhaps most important happily married. In 1847 Florence went with the Bracebridges to Rome. It was during that winter in Rome that Florence was introduced to Sidney Herbert and his wife Elizabeth a Court. She had spoken to them of her plan to go to Kaiserwerth, they approved. The Bunsen’s were also thinking of sending their daughter there.

In 1849 Florence was to travel to Egypt with the Bracebridges. She wrote long letters to the family while she was away. (Which were privately printed, by her sister) The Bracebridges were very well known and were entertained by governors, chief consuls and ambassadors. Although it was a wonderful adventure for Florence, she could not settle, in a small black notebook she recorded her secret agonies. She lived within her self, with in her own thoughts. Selina could see how unhappy she was and suggested they travel home through Prague and Berlin. She and her husband could stay a fortnight in Dusseldorf, while Florence visited Kaiserwerth.

On July 31st 1849 she arrived at Kaiserwerth, and went to see Pastor Fliedner, who allowed her to stay at the Institution. She did not nurse while she was there, but did help to look after the children. They had no male doctors in residence, and male nurses attended to the requirements of the male patients.

They returned to England on August 21st, the family were at Lea Hurst. They were not impressed by her visit to Kaiserwerth, and it was not to be spoken of again. After being away for nearly a year Fanny felt that Florence should spend time at home with her sister, they would sketch, sing together, wander in the garden. This satisfied Parthe, it was the way Fanny wanted Florence to be, but Florence was going mad with boredom.

Finally Fanny’s thoughts on Kaiserwerth changed, perhaps with the influence of the Herberts, the Bunsens and the Bracebridges. She planned a trip for her and her daughters, Parthe could spend time for a three month cure at Carlsbad, Florence could go on to Kaiserwerth. Her father stayed home, he could no longer put up with the disagreements in his family. Fanny insisted that Florence should tell no one where she was going.

During her stay at Kaiserwerth she worked with the children and in the hospital. She also attended an operation. There was no nurse training at Kaiserwerth, but patients were well cared for, and well fed. Florence had never been happier.


All was not well when it was time for them to return home. Parthe had become so reliant on Florence that she could not bear to be parted from her. Fanny would not allow Florence to leave home, unless it was to marry. William was caught up in all of this, and felt that his wife and daughter were being very unfair to Florence. It was recommended by Sir James Clarke (the Queen’s physician) that Parthe should be separated from her family and live with another relative. Fanny would not agree to this. Florence felt that this could be her chance to make her own way. Perhaps if she left home, Parthe’s health might improve. Parthe had been spending time in Scotland, under the supervision of Sir James Clarke; Florence bought her home to Embley. She left a few days later to go with her father who was to have eye treatment in Umberside. Afterwards instead of returning home she went to stay with Aunt Mai, and then the Herberts.

In 1852 Florence went to Paris to stay with Mary Clarke. While she was there she planned to visit as many hospitals as she could. M.Mohl had got her a permit from the Administration Generale de L’Assistance Publique; this would allow her to visit any hospital. She visited hospitals, infirmaries and almshouses. Florence made records of the different hospitals and made comparisons. She drew up detailed questionnaires, which she sent to hospitals in France, Germany and England. She had intended to train in nursing at the Maison de la Providence which was the hospital of the Sisters of Charity. But on the day she was due to go, she was called home as her grandmother had become ill, and she was needed at home.

While the family was at Tapton, her grandmother’s home, Aunt Mai joined them. She was having family problems, her daughter Blanche wanted to marry Arthur Hugh Clough, but the family disapproved. The main reason was that he did not have a secure income. So Florence sat them both down, and worked out a budget on what they would need to live on. With the aid of these figures they succeeded in persuading Aunt Mai to approve the engagement. They were married in 1854.

Harley Street …


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