The Health Reformer


July 1, 1871

Florence Nightingale


Her Views of the Sick Room—Good and Bad Air—Dress

It is with pleasure that I copy the following good words from a large volume entitled, “Eminent Women of this Age.” The historical sketch of Florence Nightingale is given by James Parton. Speaking of her book, entitled, Notes on Nursing, Mr. Parton says: HR July 1, 1871, par. 1

“The chief duty of a nurse,” she says, “is simply this; to keep the air which the patient breathes as pure as the external air, but without chilling him.” This, she insists, is the main point, and is so important that if you attend properly to that you may leave almost all the rest to nature. She dwells most forcibly upon the absolute necessity, and wonderful curative power, of perfect cleanliness and bright light. Her little chapter upon noise in, the sick room, in which she shows how necessary it is for a patient never to be startled, disturbed, or fidgeted, is most admirable and affecting. She seems to have entered into the very soul of sick people, and to have as lively a sense of how they feel, what they like, what gives them pain, what hinders or retards their recovery, as though she herself were the invalid whose case she is describing. If she had done nothing else in her life but produce this wise, kind, and pointed little work, she would deserve the gratitude of suffering man. HR July 1, 1871, par. 2

The book, too, although remarkably free from direct allusions to herself, contains much biographical material. We see the woman on every page—the woman who takes nothing for granted, when sophistry cannot deceive, who looks at things with her own honest eyes reflects upon them with her own fearless mind, and speaks of them in good, downright, Nightingale English. She ever returns to her grand fundamental position, the curative power of fresh, pure air. “Disease,” she remarks, “is not an evil, but a blessing; it is a reparative process—an effort of nature to get rid of something hostile to life.” That being the case, it is of the first importance to remove what she considers the chief cause of disease—the inhaling of poisonous air. She laughs to scorn the impious cant, so often employed to console bereaved parents, that the death of children is a “mysterious dispensation of providence.” No such thing. Children perish, she tells us, because they are packed into unventilated school-rooms, and sleep at night in unventilated dormitories. HR July 1, 1871, par. 3

“An extraordinary fallacy,” she says, “is the dread of night air. What air can we breathe at night but night air? The choice is between pure night air from without, and foul night air from within. Most people prefer the latter. An unaccountable choice! An open window, most nights in the year, can never hurt any one.” “Better,” she remarks, “shut the windows all day than all night.” She maintains, too, that the reason why people now-a-days, especially ladies, are less robust than they were formerly, is because they pass the greater part of their lives in breathing poison. Upon this point she expresses herself with great force. HR July 1, 1871, par. 4

“The houses of the grandmothers, and great-grandmothers of this generation (at least, the country houses), with front door and back door always standing open, winter and summer, and a thorough draft always blowing through—with all the scrubbing and cleaning, polishing and scouring, which used to go on—the grandmothers, and, still more, the great-grandmothers, always out of doors, and never with a bonnet on except to go to church; these things entirely account for a fact so often seen of a great-grandmother, who was a tower of physical vigor, descending into a grandmother, perhaps a little less vigorous, but still sound as a bell, and healthy to the core, into a mother languid and confined to her carriage and her house, and, lastly, into a daughter sickly and confined to her bed. For, remember, even with a general decrease of mortality, you may often find a race thus degenerating, and still oftener, a family. You may see poor, little, feeble, washed-out rags, children of a noble stock, suffering, morally and physically, throughout their useless, degenerate lives; and yet people who are going to marry and to bring more such into the world, will consult nothing but their own convenience as to where they are to live, or how they are to live.” Again she says, addressing parents, “Why must a child have measles? If you believed in, and observed, the laws for preserving the health of houses, which inculcate cleanliness, ventilation, white-washing, and other means (and which, by the way, are law), as implicitly as you believe the popular opinion (for it is nothing more than an opinion) that your child must have children's epidemics, don't you think that, upon the whole, your child would be more likely to escape altogether?” HR July 1, 1871, par. 5

Miss Nightingale is an enemy of crinoline, the wearing of which she styles” an absurd and hideous custom.” “The dress of women,” she adds, “is daily more and more unfitting them for any mission of usefulness at all. It is equally unfitted for all poetic and all domestic purposes. A man is now more handy and a far less objectionable being in a sick room than a woman. Compelled by her dress, every woman now either shuffles or waddles; only a man can cross the floor of a sick room without shaking it! What has become of women's light step—the firm, light, quick step we have been asking for?” HR July 1, 1871, par. 6

Many men and women have written independently, truthfully, wisely, and well, of the importance of correct habits in order for the recovery of the sick, and the preservation of health to those who are in the enjoyment of it. But, judging from the almost universal bad habits of the people, one might reasonably conclude that they did not read what had been well said on the subject of life and health, or if they did, what they read did not at all influence them in practical life. HR July 1, 1871, par. 7

The truth is, the masses are led on blindly by popular physicians, who are the last men to engage in the work of informing the people. Their stronghold is in the superstitious confidence of the people, in their doses. Should they teach the people how to live so as to keep well, their practice would be ruined. But we rejoice to witness indications that many are awaking to the glad thought that it is their privilege to learn how to live so as to keep out of the doctor's hand, and that the pure air, pure water, quiet, abstinence from drugs, and a proper diet, are the best means that can be employed for the recovery of those who suffer from failing health. HR July 1, 1871, par. 8

E. G. W.