Florence Nightingale museum reopens to tours after two years away

Kit Heren (22 May, 2022)

'She is one of the women who paved the way,' the head of the Nightingale Academy said

55463Florence Nightingale Museum’s Learning Manager Laura Sharpe (as Florence) examining Nightingale’s original ‘lamp’ at the Florence Nightingale Museum

A museum celebrating Florence Nightingale has opened for the first time in two years, after the Covid-19 pandemic – with exhibits including her stuffed pet owl.

The Florence Nightingale Museum on Lambeth Palace Road is opening with a special exhibition celebrating the 200th anniversary of her birth – delayed by two years because of the pandemic.

Among the other exhibits in the exhibition are the lamp Turkish lantern she carried during the Crimean War, the first nursing uniform she designed, and her medicine chest she took to the war.

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The museum is also doing teaching sessions for school children with actor Laura Sharpe, who plays Nightingale herself.

“She’s always surprising, in what she stood for,” Laura said. “She fought for the very poor in society…

“She was very posh, very privileged – we have recordings of her. It’s not the standard RP [received pronunciation], it’s kind of more old-fashioned than that. She was from an incredibly wealthy background.

Laura’s act even extends to dressing up in nineteenth century outfit. “The costume gets quite warm, but we don’t have to wear a corset.”

Even though the museum was closed, she had been doing workshops for schools before the official opening last week.

During the pandemic the workshops went online. “Florence lived on in Zoom,” Laura said. “The kids love her, they really like the old-fashioned Victorian approach.”

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Fiona Hibberts, who runs the Nightingale Academy at nearby Guy’s and St Thomas’, which helps with training of nurses and midwives, and with research in the area, said: “We’re delighted they’re opening again… we have a special connection with her.

“She is one of the women who paved the way,” she said, pointing to the emphasis Nightingale put on data collection, using data to back up arguments, and ways of preventing evidence graphically, as well as her insistence on personal hygiene and handwashing.

Nightingale became the first female member the Statistical Society of London in 1858, two years after she came back from Crimea. Her entry certificate is in the exhibition, and says that “he is a fit person” – perhaps a reflection of attitudes to gender at the time.

The museum is open five days a week.

Exhibits on display include:
? The bad-tempered – now stuffed – pet owl, Athena, who used to enjoy being carried around in Florence’s pocket.
? Nightingale’s highly decorated (and well used) writing case.
? Her own copy of Oliver Twist by her friend and supporter Charles Dickens
? The Florence Nightingale Barbie from Mattel’s Inspiring Women collection
? The knocker from the front door of Nightingale’s London home at 10 South Street, where she lived from 1865 until her death in 1910.
? Nightingale’s cameo appearance in the Assassin’s Creed Syndicate video game

Learn more about the museum here.

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