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Biography & Autobiography Medical

Florence Nightingale at First Hand

edited by Lynn McDonald

Wilfrid Laurier University Press
Initial publish date
Mar 2010
Medical, General, Women
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2010
    List Price

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Florence Nightingale is one of the most famous figures in modern history, yet questions have been raised as to her real achievements. Much of what we know of her emanates from unreliable second-hand accounts and from a misreading of the primary sources.

Based on her writings, Florence Nightingale at First Hand lets the legendary founder of nursing and heroine of the Crimean War speak for herself. Author Lynn McDonald is the editor of the Collected Works of Florence Nightingale (WLU Press) and the world’s foremost Nightingale authority. Chapters relate Nightingale’s background, her faith and political creed, her work during Crimean War and its aftermath, on later wars, and on reform in nursing, health care, midwifery, workhouses, hospitals, and India.

Published to commemorate the centenary of Nightingale’s death, this book presents a Florence Nightingale for the twenty-first century: she was a prodigiously astute researcher, a bold systems thinker, and a witty writer well connected with political and intellectual leaders. Her passionate dedication to her causes shines through her writing, making this book a great read.


About the author

Lynn McDonald is a professor of sociology at the University of Guelph, Ontario. She is a former president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, Canada’s largest women’s organization. As a Member of Parliament (the first “Ms” in the House of Commons), her Non-smokers Health Act made Parliamentary history as a private member’s bill, and made Canada a world leader in the “tobacco wars.” She is the author of The Early Origins of the Social Sciences (1993), and The Women Founders of the Social Sciences (1994) and editor of Women Theorists on Society and Politics (WLU Press, 1998), all of which have significant sections on Florence Nightingale.

Lynn McDonald's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“This is the best short study of Florence Nightingale available and a welcome addition to the literature for Nightingale's centenary year.”

Mark Bostridge

“The author carefully documents each aspect of Nightingale's life and writings.... Clear and comprehensive.... This firsthand look at Nightingale also should serve as a catalyst for experienced researchers interested in pursuing additional resources, in both the collected works and among secondary sources, to more fully understand Nightingale's considerable influence.... Recommended.”

Choice, November 2010

“A very useful guide into the world of Florence Nightingale. Each aspect of her work occupies a different chapter, making it easy to dip in and out according to the reader's interest. There are chapters on Nightingale and social reform, war work, nursing and midwifery, workhouse infirmaries, and India. This latter topic, rarely discussed in the literature, is of particular interest, as is Nightingale's statistical work in public health. The discussion of her contribution to the Royal Report into the Crimean War is well presented, while the section on nursing and midwifery avoids the usual heroic portrayal of Nightingale as sole reformer.”

Bulletin of Medical History, 85, 2011

“Florence Nightingale is one of a handfull of women in history famous enough to have become a household name. But unlike many others who come to mind—Cleopatra, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth I, Marie Antoinette—she was not a monarch. She is a thoroughly modern heroine who achieved iconic status by dint of her own efforts. Yet history seems to be as uncomfortable with Nightingale as it was with those other legendary women. Those too famous to be forgotten are instead used as object lessons about the dangers of getting ‘uppity’, of marrying too frequently or not at all. According to Lynn McDonald, Nightingale has earned the fame but not the respect that she so richly deserves. She offers Florence Nightingale at First Hand as a passionate corrective.... McDonald is the editor of the Nightingale's Collected Works and ... no one is more conversant with Nightingale's rich archival legacy. She also brings to the present project a graceful prose that is a pleasure to read.... McDonald's approach to Nightingale's defence, focusing as she does on the modern implications of her social policy ideas, may be one that finally brings Nightingale the serious consideration she deserves.”

Times Higher Education Supplement, May 6, 2010

“Since the 1950s, when nurses were forced into a servile role in relation to male doctors, Nightingale has often taken the rap for this demeaning concept of the nursing profession. Nothing could be further from the truth, and luckily, Canada has the world's leading expert on Nightingale's work and thought to set the record straight.... An upper-class Englishwoman, a devout Christian and a lifelong celibate, Nightingale makes an easy target for careless debunkers. In fact, she was an astonishingly tough, brilliant and open-minded campaigner for progressive social and economic change. A liberal (today she would be a social democrat), she ardently opposed the cold-hearted laissez-faire policies that dominated in her day.... McDonald's prose is crisp and authoritative. She illuminates the astonishing scope of Nightingale's genius and her prolific work for the public good.”

Herizons, Fall 2011

“Justly famous as the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale's fame has endured from the 1950s until today. The two books under review here provide ample evidence as to why this should be so. As both author and editor Lynn McDonald has spent much of her professional career probing virtually every aspect of Nightingale's ninety years of life. And what an amazingly productive life it was, which Nightingale's sixteen-volume Collected Works—edited principally by McDonald—makes clear. But if the received public image of Nightingale continues to be that of the “Lady of the Lamp,” then both her own Suggestions for Thought and McDonald's short biography—published to mark the centenary of Nightingale's death—show her to have been a hard-headed, clear-thinking reformer, in addition to a heroic nurse.... The Nightingale project ranks with both the Gladstone diaries and the Disraeli letters as a major undertaking in the field of Victorian-era scholarship, and therefore is of surpassing value to historians of the period, as well as to general readers.”

Anglican and Episcopal History, Vol. 81 (1), March 2012

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