Miss Nightingale and the Order of Merit

November 30 1907


The Order of Merit , instituted by Edward VII in 1902, is limited to 24 members. At present there are 23, of whom six including the Queen are women. Mother Teresa was appointed an honorary member in 1983.

An announcement of high interest was made last night in the London Gazette. It was to the effect that the KING had been pleased to confer the Order of Merit upon MISS FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE. When that most coveted and most exceptional Order was founded, at the time originally fixed for the Coronation, the list of twelve members was received with general applause; but there were those who asked whether it could not have been extended so as to include the name of the lady who had done such inestimable service to her country and to humanity. It was understood, however, that the original statutes of the Order limited it to those who had won conspicuous distinction in the military and naval services and those who are exceptionally eminent as men of letters and in the fields of art and science. We are glad to believe that the addition, a few months ago, of LORD CROMER and now MISS NIGHTINGALE to the list of members shows that the statues have been extended so as to include persons who have rendered any very high public service of non party kind. It is good, also, to find that this high mark of the SOVEREIGN’S and the country’s recognition is not to be denied to women. It is one thing to admit women to the struggles of politics; it is quite another to signalise, by these high marks of public and official recognition, the innumerable services which they render to their country.

Of the paramount claims of MISS NIGHTINGALE to any honours that the SOVEREIGN can bestow there is little need to speak, short as is the public memory in these times. It may indeed, be a surprise to many to learn that the heroine of the Crimean campaign – struggle against death, disease, and misery – is still living among us; but her name is one of the very few that is universally known, universally honoured. At eighty-seven years of age, during almost fifty of which she has been a suffering invalid, broken down by work and hardship in the Crimea, she still lives, and what is more, still works for the causes to which her life has been given. It may be a secret to the public, but it is well known to all who are in any sense behind the scenes, that MISS NIGHTINGALE in her retirement has been as constantly consulted as if she were still what she was in the Crimea, the “Lady-in-Chief” of the nursing organization. . . For to the end she has preserved those qualities which gave her such an incomparable influence in the evil days of the Russian war; immense good sense and ungrudging self-devotion. On what she was then, and what she did, there is no need to dwell, for it is enshrined in the memory of her country. She came forward at a time when incredible mismanagement had wrought incredible misery; when 20,000 British troops had been thrown down upon the shores of an enemy’s country to face not only a great army, but cold and disease, without huts, without proper clothing, without the most elementary comforts with medicines, and without nurses. MISS NIGHTINGALE an her picked bank of thirty-eight nurses – all new to the work, as every one was at that time – went out at SIDNEY HERBERT’S invitation, and, in spite of the most scandalous opposition on the spot, quickly changed the whole condition of things. One the one hand, she reformed the whole system of supplies to the sick; on the other, her personal presence brought comfort, hope, and even happiness to thousands of the wounded, the suffering and the dying. .

Article appeared on 30 November 1994.

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