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Florence Nightingale collection

Identifier: 354:28

Scope and Contents

The bibliography of Florence Nightingale is not an extensive one when considered in terms of her contribution to and impact on our world; many public figures of her time and since whose influence has been measurably less wrote more themselves and have had more written about them than she. Her own published works were limited to a handful of quasi-official reports, a slim book, and a few pamphlets, but it would be presumptuous to attempt assessing the importance of their influence on the prevention and management of disease in the hundred years since their appearance. Writings about Florence Nightingale bulk larger. She had become a legend, against her wishes and despite her efforts to the contrary, before her life was half over, and her deeds and ideals were celebrated, often inaccurately and almost always sentimentally, in every literary form.

But if the body of published work is comparatively small, the body of manuscript material is voluminous. Florence Nightingale was a prolific letter writer, and all her life she kept journals and diaries and commonplace books in which she, in effect, wrote letters to herself to record her private thoughts and opinions. The latter material remains unpublished in a few separate depositories, although her biographers have had access to it. The letter have been widely scattered, but a bibliography is soon to be published listing and locating as many as possible.

The Wayne State University Florence Nightingale Collection attempts only to be representative. It includes copies of the major works written by her, the two definitive biographies, a sampling of the various books written bout and inspired by her, some representative letters, and a few pieces of memorabilia. As detailed here, the collection is essentially the one assembled by the late Dr. Otto Fischer, of Detroit, for whom it represented a happy conjunction of his profession, medicine, and his avocation, book-collecting. It was acquired from him in 1961 through the joint effort of the College of Nursing and the University Library. In addition to the books and letters listed on the following pages, the collection includes some Nightingale pictures, mostly reproductions, a twentieth century re-recording of her voice as transcribed on an Edison cylinder sometime about the turn of the century, and a few letters of people who were in some way associated with her but which are neither addressed to nor relevant to her.

The collection covers a wide range of dates with material as old as 1812 and as new as 2003. The majority of the letters written by and about Florence Nightingale are dated in the range of 1850-1900. Books newer than 1963 were added to the original collection by Wayne State University.


  • Majority of material found within Bulk, 1850-1900
  • 1812-2003

Language of Materials

English. Libretti are various languages, including Italian, German, and French and are often bi-lingual.


Single photocopies may be made of the material depending on the condition of the item. Digital photography is allowed. Scanning of previously unscanned items may be available upon request.

Permission to publish material from the collection must be requested from the Dean of the Wayne State University Library System.


Florence Nightingale, who was born in 1820 and died in 1910, lived through the entire Victorian Age and beyond. Hampered and hemmed in as she felt herself to be by the customs of her day, her extraordinary intelligence and driving will found means by which she could work toward her objectives, although these were not objectives regarded sympathetically either by her family or by the much larger circle of influential people in the society among whom her family moved. Love of study, especially of mathematics and the new science of statistics, was lifelong, and these tastes alone tended to set her apart from her contemporaries. She also had an enormous talent for administration which could be exercised and developed without suspicion in a large Victorian household. The two great concern of her adult life, however, reform of hospital nursing and the health of the British soldier, were hard for others to view with sympathy and understanding. Her interest in nursing the sick dated from childhood. Her great desire to improve the hygiene of living of British soldiers derived first from her experience with the army of Turkey during the Crimean War, but increased in intensity when study of conditions under which soldiers lived in peacetime revealed to her how and why they so frequently died.

Although she lived for many years in seclusion as a semi-invalid, her work for reformation went on continuously and was carried out through her pen. The objectives of reform of hospital nursing and improvement of health in the British Army were in a considerable measure achieved. The accomplishment gave Miss Nightingale but slight satisfaction; her meager achievement was matched only by impatience with what she felt to be the inadequacies of others who worked with her toward the same ends.

Few women have exerted so far-reaching and enduring an influence on so many. Intelligence of the level that was hers is rare in men or women, but there is little evidence that this brilliant driving woman ever recognized that fact. Time and circumstances, however, were right for the reforms that Florence Nightingale pressed. She had a public ready and able to learn, as well as acquaintances in public life to effect the action necessary for change. Even though Miss Nightingale failed to appreciate that all men could not match her pace, and so derived little joy from their work for her or from her own labors, patients in hospitals and soldiers in barracks or field have not yet ceased to benefit from the work accomplished during her long life.


7.0 Linear Feet (38 books, 6 boxes, 2 records, 1 audio reel, 1 framed painting)

Processing Information

This collection was processed by Meghan Finch. Forward, Scope and Contents, and abstract information from the original bibliography written by Wayne State University's Howard Sullivan in 1963.
Florence Nightingale collection 354:28
Inventory prepared by Howard A. Sullivan, 1963. Digital finding aid by Meghan Finch. Revised by Alison Greenlee, March 2020.
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Repository Details

Part of the Wayne State University Library System Special Collections Repository


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