1 – The Calling
Original Acrylic on Canvas, 24”h x 24”w, Framed
“Were there none who were discontented with what they have, the world would never reach anything better.”
Florence was born on May 12, 1820, at Villa La Columbaia in Florence, Italy, her namesake, while the Nightingale family was on an extended Continental tour. Her sister, Parthenope (Parthe), was born the prior year in Naples. During this time, W.E.N. was expanding Lea Hurst, sometimes using his own creative designs. Flo’s childhood was filled with art and music in the world’s greatest halls by the renowned composers of the day. She played classical piano, sang and enjoyed opera, and loved to listen and play Mozart – it all came naturally to her. At her beloved Lea Hurst, Flo and Parthe frolicked in the garden and rode their ponies down into the valley to the River Derwert, then would come back to prepare to hostess the structured social receptions and dinners with their parents.
Soon W.E.N. purchased the 3,400-acre Embley Park as a main residence in New Forest, Hampshire, where more than 70 gardeners were required to keep up with the flora and fauna. At Embley their parents entertained lavishly during the season. Parthe, always a favorite of and more like her mother, was quite different from Flo. She was a typical well-heeled Victorian child and seemed to enjoy these mandatory social functions and her art. On the other hand, Florence was uniquely inquisitive and excelled beyond W.E.N.’s dreams.
She studied and spoke Greek, Latin, German, French, and Italian and studied the details of history and the complexity of philosophy, all designed as part of the preparation for what her parents believed would be a good foundation for the future as a Victorian wife. It was how Florence saw her world – the limitations of a Victorian’s woman’s life that she came to abhor. Through her teen years and into her 20’s, Flo writhed with uncertainty in her future as she knew she could not survive the life she saw her mother and lady friends had, one of boredom, siloed and limited in scope. As she watched in disdain, she moved the focus of her energy on caring for her animals, a pet pig, donkey, and pony, Peggie. She nurtured her pets, other animals and even insects. One insect by Embley was the beautiful New Forest cicada, which Flo caught to analyze its wings and colors. One day walking down the road to Embley, Flo came upon Cap, her father’s shepherd’s dog. The dog had injured its leg, and she immediately bound it with torn cloth, dressed and took care of the wound, and gave Roger instructions to help Cap heal – a heartfelt sign of her care and compassionate inner self. She collected shells from around the world during family excursions to the English shores, finding and buying the most unique to add to her personal collection.
All the while, Flo looked at those around her and continued to wrestle with what she was beginning to see as her calling – she wanted to care for others, she wanted to be a nurse, a vocation not acceptable by her parents. In those days, gentlewomen were typically women of ill repute, drunkards and derelicts. Flo wanted to volunteer in the villages to help the ill and injured, help to nurse them back to health. She watched and ascertained organized nursing could make a difference in their care and shorten the time for healing. God first spoke to her at age 17 in the garden at Embley – this was her sign, her inspiration, and one of four times during her life she experienced His voice, which she believed was the driving force through which she set out to change the world. She listened carefully and understood she was to forge a different path. She was building her confidence against all odds to break out of the constraints of Victorian life and follow her heart to be free – and be a nurse. More and more she began to notice the excesses of the wealthy and the limitations of the poor, underserved and needy, especially their state of health. There was a great need for the formal training of nurses. And, that nursing education was yet to come.
“The world is put back by the death of every one who has to sacrifice
the development of his or her peculiar gifts to conventionality.”
(l to r)
• Villa La Columbaia in Florence, Italy – the Nightingales took the city’s name for their second child.
• The 1825 keystone above the entrance at Lea Hurst defining the expansion completion.
• The iron bench under the expansive Cedar of Lebanon tree in the Lea Hurst garden where Florence
contemplated how she was going to find her freedom amid the choking Victorian societal restraints.
The mounting block is still at Lea Hurst.
• At Embley Park, her father’s shepherd, Roger, let Flo mend his dog Cap’s injured leg. Flo immediately
bound it with torn cloth to set the bones and nursed Cap at the scene.
• Also at Embley Park, the grand urn was under the centuries’ old chestnut tree next to a stone bench
where Flo would sit frequently to read; it was here God spoke to her, the first time of four times.
• During her young life, traveling abroad from England to Europe required ingenuity. W.E.N. designed a
huge four-horse-drawn family carriage. These long, arduous trips helped to open Flo’s eyes and
engaged her to think about how different cultures lived, especially how their health was affected by
hygiene and sanitary conditions.
• Mozart was Flo’s favorite composer.
• As a young girl, Florence began a life-long collection of sea shells, which she found on one of many family excursions to the sea as well as purchased at shops that offered them from around the world.
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