Florence Nightingale Bicentennial: Year of the Nurse and Midwife

Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the World Health Assembly, the governing body of the World Health Organization (WHO), has designated 2020 as the Year of the Nurse and the Midwife “to celebrate the work of nurses and midwives, highlight the challenging conditions they often face, and advocate for increased investments in the nursing and midwifery workforce.” While International Nurses Day commemorates Nightingale’s birthday yearly on May 12, programs and events throughout this bicentennial year aim to further champion the work of nurses and midwives.

Here at Burns Library, we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight our collections focused on nursing history, theory, and practice, as well as some of our materials on Florence Nightingale.

Florence Nightingale - Lady of the Lamp - mezzotint - 18

Tomkins, Charles Algernon, and Butterworth, J. Florence Nightingale an Angel of Mercy. Scutari Hospital 1855. London: Lloyd Brothers & Co., 1855. RT37.N6 T66 1855 FLAT STORAGE.

A recent acquisition portrays Nightingale in her fabled role as the “The Lady of the Lamp.” This rare colored mezzotint engraving portrays Nightingale as an angel of mercy, carrying a small oil lamp as she visits wounded soldiers in a military hospital in Turkey during the Crimean War. Beneath the image is the famous quotation from The Times of London (“Letter from Scutari,” February 1855) from which Nightingale’s epithet was derived: “When all the medical officers have retired for the night, and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds.”  Probably the first separate depiction of Nightingale, the engraving was purchased with funds from the Mary L. Pekarski Endowment, named in honor of the founder of the nursing archival and library collections that have served Boston College’s Connell School of Nursing since it opened in 1947.

Nightingale letter to Lewis - 1855

Nightingale letter to Mrs. Lewis, 1 April 1855, Box 1, Folder 1, Josephine A. Dolan Collection of Nursing History, MS.1988.004.

Burns Library also holds three original letters by Nightingale and reproductions of related correspondence. One of the Nightingale letters, dated 1 April 1855, was written in the hospital barracks in Scutari to a Mrs. Lewis. Nightingale laments the toll that dysentery was having on mutual acquaintances. Nightingale’s implementation of innovative sanitation practices greatly reduced hospital death rates in the following months, from 42% upon her arrival to just 2%. The Dolan Collection also includes a folding oil lamp of the type that Nightingale may have used during her service at the military hospital.

This collection on nursing history was donated by Josephine A. Dolan, the first professor of nursing at the University of Connecticut School of Nursing. Dolan, who earned her nursing degree at Boston University, was the first recipient of the National League for Nursing Distinguished Service Award in 1972, and recipient of an honorary degree from Boston College in 1987.

oil lamp - 1880s - large image

photograph of folding lamp, circa 1880s, Box 3, Josephine A. Dolan Collection of Nursing History, MS.1988.004

For more materials on Florence Nightingale, see the Florence Nightingale Digitization Project, which began as a collaborative effort between the Boston University’s Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, the Florence Nightingale Museum in London, the Royal College of  Nursing, and the Wellcome Library. The project currently provides online access to about 2,300 of the more than 14,000 of Nightingale’s letters that are known to have survived. On 30 April – 1 May 2020, the Gotlieb Center will host an American celebration of Nightingale’s bicentennial, featuring a live dramatic performance followed by an all-day symposium.


nurses’ caps, box 46, New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing records, MS.1989.008

The Gotlieb Center’s extensive History of Nursing Archives are complemented by those held in Burns Library. In addition to the Dolan Collection, Burns Library holds the papers of several prominent nurses, including the Margaret A. Colliton papers on psychiatric nursing; the Madeline Clémence Vaillot papers, documenting the influential career of the French-born Dominican Sister of the Presentation; and the papers of Cynthia E. Northrop, founder of the American Association of Nurse Attorneys, whose records are also held by Burns Library. Records of other organizations maintained by Burns Library include the North American Nursing Diagnosis Association and Visiting Nurse Association of Boston. Burns Library also holds the records of the New England Deaconess Hospital School of Nursing, documenting the school’s trajectory from its opening in 1896 to its closure in 1989, and the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital School of Nursing, which focuses primarily on its final 20 years of operation prior to closing in 2000, including institutional and alumni association records, artifacts, ephemera.

For additional details on nursing resources available through the Boston College Libraries, see the research guides maintained by Wanda Anderson, Nursing/Health Sciences Research Librarian & Bibliographer. Faculty members are invited to contact Burns Library to schedule class visits to view and study materials from our nursing archives and rare book collection, which are also available for use by students, faculty, visiting researchers, and the general public in our reading room.

—Christian Dupont, Burns Librarian and Associate University Librarian for Special Collections


Bostridge, Mark. “Florence Nightingale: the Lady with the Lamp.” BBC History blog post, last updated 17 February 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/nightingale_01.shtml

Doona, Mary Ellen. Light on Life: The Nursing Collection. Chestnut Hill, MA: Boston College, 1990. https://bc-primo.hosted.exlibrisgroup.com/permalink/f/l6ucgu/ALMA-BC21312810530001021

Swanson, Deborah. “6 Reasons Why 2020 Is the Year of the Nurse.” Daily Nurse blog post, 22 January 2020. https://dailynurse.com/6-reasons-why-2020-is-the-year-of-the-nurse/



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