Notes on Nursing

By Florence Nightingale

This text, by famed nurse Florence Nightingale, represents her “conclusions drawn…after more than fourteen years of observation and thought on the subject of bedside care of the sick.”

It’s not a manual for nurses per se, but a book to help the reader “think how to nurse” — useful for the millions of non-nurses — mostly women, then and now — charged with caring for their families.

The book was originally published in 1860; this edition is a 1969 reprint. It’s short, but covers much ground, including the physical environment of the patient; cleanliness; and the importance of close observation and attention to detail.

The chapter list in its entirety: Ventilation and Warming, Health of Houses, Petty Management, Noise, Variety, Taking Food, What Food?, Bed and Bedding, Light, Cleanliness of Rooms and Walls, Personal Cleanliness, Chattering Hopes and Advices, Observation of the Sick, Conclusion.

Nightingale’s writing is clear, witty, acerbic at times. I love that the text contains not just footnotes but what I’m calling edgenotes — what I first thought were tiny comments in the margins — but — wait, actually! — realized in fact serve as small header / summary bits.

I knew Nightingale was influential but I didn’t know just how influential she was, particularly in professionalizing nursing — her writing created a body of knowledge that helped nursing become more serious as a practice, a field. It still resonates today.

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