The Florence Nightingale Museum re-opens today, coinciding with both Florence Nightingale’s birthday and the centenary of her death. I took a sneaky look round the refurbished museum as they were adding the finishing touches a fortnight ago.
On my way there, I wondered if I’d taken a wrong turn, as despite following the arrows labelled “museum”, I seemed to be headed towards the A&E department at St Thomas’ Hospital. In fact, the museum is tucked away next to the hospital, in a fitting location for a woman who dedicated her life to nursing.
Through touch screen displays, stethoscope audio guides, displays of personal items, and old medical equipment, the museum tells the story of Florence Nightingale from her childhood to how she became known as the Lady with the Lamp, to her later life.
Florence Nightingale is well-known for revolutionising nursing in the 1800s by improving hygiene in hospitals. But in this exhibition, you can see the other contributions she made, such as the meticulous records she kept on her nurses (a skill that started early as you’ll observe in her childhood log books and journals from family holidays). And how she used her unwanted fame to campaign for better conditions in military hospitals – including directly to Queen Victoria!
I was particularly interested to learn how Florence shunned convention and followed what she felt was a god-given call to nursing despite the protests of her parents. Nursing wasn’t considered a suitable profession for an educated woman such as Florence. She also refused several marriage proposals, finding happiness in her work instead.
The £1.4 million transformation has made the museum more interactive, split the story into three pavilions representing three sections of Florence Nightingale’s life, and added space for temporary exhibitions. This was my first visit to the Florence Nightingale Museum but one visitor, who had visited three times before, told me it was “bigger, better and prettier” than before!
The Florence Nightingale Museum opens on 12 May.