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May 12 2022 - 01:00 PM
Today In History: Florence Nightingale Is Born

For years an impressive painting of Florence Nightingale sat among an historic collection of Teachers College portraiture, waiting to be displayed in the Offit Gallery, Third Floor of the Gottesman Libraries. Frederick Rocher's work was exhibited in 2016 as part of the Restored Oil Paintings of Teachers College, and in February 2020, the arguable centerpiece in Selections from the Mary Adelaide Nutting Collection. This painting is now on permanent display in the newly restored Tudor Room of Teachers College. Nightingale wears a nurse's cap, symbol of her profession, and looks with gravity ahead. She is wrapped in a crimson velvet blanket or shawl that matches a blazing sky, most likely within war-torn Crimea, where she, the founder of modern nursing, served in a British military camp. Medicine was in short supply; hygiene, poor; and infection, prevalent, as she and thirty-eight brave women cared for the sick and wounded.

Florence Nightingale, was a British social reformer and expert statistician who collected data on patients to understand and improve the effectiveness of medical methods and treatment. Affectionately known in later life as "Lady of the Lamp" for her rounds at night, she was born in Florence, Italy on May 12th, 1820, to a wealthy and connected family; her parents were William Edward Nightingale and Frances Nightingale (née Smith). She was educated at Kings College, London, and the University of Cambridge and went on to serve as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War (1853-1856). Nightingale became a pioneer in nursing, highly recognized for her loving and humane care of soldiers, as well as her important contributions to hospital hygiene; she coordinated closely with the Sanitary Commission to address major needs in sewage, ventilation, and hospital redesign. Nightingale was the first to organize nurses and provided standardized roles and responsibilities for the profession; she represents a lasting inspiration for the legacy of nursing educators at Teachers College, Columbia University, which began educating nursing leaders in 1899.

In commemoration of Florence Nightingale's birthday, May 12th became International Nurses Day, celebrated by the International Council of Nurses and others since 1965. 2020 became Year of the Nurse and Midwife, established by the World Health Organization, in honor of 200th anniversary of the year of Florence Nightingale's birth.

The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.


  • Explore the Florence Nightingale Collection in Pocketknowledge, the digital archive of Teachers College; this collection comprises correspondence and documentation that Florence Nightingale either wrote during the period of 1827 – 1907, or that was written about her and her work. In addition there is “calendar of letters” that documents her life, work, and research activities, beginning from the age of seven until her death.

  • Read the article about the Offit Gallery exhibit, Selections from the Mary Adelaide Nutting Collection, which features nursing artifacts and an interview with Kathleen O'Connell, Isabel Maitland Stewart Professor of Nursing Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.


  • Florence Nightingale, oil portrait by Frederick Rocher (1943), Historical Portraiture Collection, Courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries, Teachers College, Columbia University

  • Special News Slide, Courtesy of the Gottesman Libraries


Need to keep current, look to the past, teach a topic? The Everett Cafe features daily postings of news from around the world, and also promotes awareness of historical events from an educational context. Be sure to check additional Cafe News postings on the library blog.

Posted in: Learning at the LibraryNews Cafe|By: Jennifer Govan|2314 Reads