National Nurses’ Week

May 6 to May 12is National Nurses’ Week and is celebrated nationally. This week is dedicated to appreciating and honoring the nurses that risk their lives every day to tend and care for their patients. The origins of the celebration trace back to Florence Nightingale, whose work changed the nursing profession and its global recognition.
Born in Italy to British parents, Nightingale believed she experienced a “calling” to help those in need. Nursing was not a respected profession at the time, however, Nightingale knew this is what she wanted to do for the rest of her life. She studied in Germany for three months and afterward moved to Paris to gain more training with the Sisters of Mercy. During this time, Nightingale began to make a name for herself within the nursing community. In 1853, she moved back to England where she gained the position of superintendent and manager of a hospital. One year later, the Crimean War began; Britain, Turkey, and France fought against Russia as it began to place more pressure on Turkey, threatening the commercial interests of its allies.
The British were not ready for the number of injured soldiers needing care, and thus people began to complain of the unsanitary conditions and lack of supplies for the wounded. As the press further shed light on the problems, the British Secretary of War requested from Nightingale to gather nurses to help overseas. They brought food and supplies, as well as sanitary materials to clean the hospitals. The doctors at Constantinople treated the thirty-eight nurses harshly, rejecting their help at first since they were all women. Eventually, the doctors needed their assistance as more injured soldiers came in. In the span of six months, the death rates decreased from forty percent to two percent.
Florence Nightingale often visited the British troops at night, thus they dubbed her the nickname “the Lady with the Lamp.” Her impact in Constantinople carried over back to England, where she sustained her work in sanitizing and improving hospital conditions. Using her past experiences, she presented her data to the royalty of Britain at the time, which convinced them to create a Royal Commission dedicated to enhancing the well-being of the troops. She began to educate potential nurses by assisting in the establishment of the Army Medical College in Chatham, as well as write her first book, Notes on Nursing: What it is, and What it is Not, in 1859. Nightingale also continued to share her knowledge and experiences with the nurses in England through lessons and teachings, leading to the opening of Nightingale Training School at St. Thomas’ Hospital in 1860. Florence Nightingale revolutionized nursing and brought attention to it nationally in Britain as well as globally in Turkey. Her hard work and dedication in the Crimean War created a new identity for nursing and allowed for more recognition of the profession.
Another inspirational and brave nurse was Mary Ann Bickerdyke, who served in the Civil War, opening over three hundred field hospitals and caring for the soldiers during and after the war. They nicknamed her “Mother Bickerdyke” for how kindhearted and concerned she was for the troops.
Bickerdyke enrolled at Oberlin College, where she began her education to become a nurse. She worked with doctors in Cincinnati during the Cholera outbreak, but she eventually got married and moved to Galesburg, Illinois. When the Civil War began, the citizens of Galesburg came together and bought a total of five hundred dollars worth of supplies for the soldiers in Cairo, Illinois; the residents chose Bickerdyke to deliver the supplies. When she arrived, she immediately set up a hospital for the Union soldiers; she began to travel with the troops, establishing over three hundred hospitals for the ill as the Civil War progressed. Bickerdyke often went into the battles to look for wounded soldiers, risking her life each time, and once it was nighttime, she would walk through the battleground looking for other fighters who needed assistance. Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman expressed their admiration for Bickerdyke’s bravery and advocacy for the troops, as she frequently called out officers for their lack of provision for their men. After the Civil War, she continued to advocate for soldiers, specifically for them to receive pensions from the government; she also managed to secure funds for over three hundred female nurses, although Bickerdyke herself did not receive a pension until about 15 years after the Civil War. Mary Ann Bickerdyke served the American troops with love, bravery, and determination throughout the Civil War era, and her service to the United States shows why National Nurses’ Week is celebrated.