The Letters: War Relief Work

Florence Nightingale's concern and compassion for sick and wounded soldiers surfaced most famously in her tireless nursing during the Crimean War. But her devotion to healing war victims continued throughout her life. Even though her own health no longer permitted her to work on the front lines, she nevertheless labored behind the scenes to collect donations for aid societies and provided advice to war relief workers. Florence Nightingale’s good friend, philanthropist Madame Julie Salis-Schwabe (1818-1896), supported medical relief funds for the sick and wounded, widows and orphans, and other victims of various European wars throughout the later half of the 19th century. The Reynolds Library holds a collection of letters written by Nightingale to Madame Schwabe providing her advice, assistance and donations for relief of sufferers in the Austro-Prussian Seven Weeks War of 1866 and the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. In these letters, Nightingale's deep sympathy for the sufferers is continually expressed. For example, in a letter of December 27, 1870, she writes, "People tell me to be thankful that we are 'not in it' - And so I am, truly thankful that our country is not in it - but that I am 'not in it' is the greatest regret of my life - My whole head & heart & hands are panting to be with those wretched sufferers of the Loire. And I wake every hour of the night fancying I am with them."


Letters Concerning the Austro-Prussian Seven Weeks War

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, July 15, 1866

In a private letter to her friend Madame Schwabe, Nightingale discusses her busy schedule, the many patients that arrive to see her daily, and her unending need to help them. She writes, "In my long sleepless nights, I can’t help thinking to myself: now, suppose that poor lying-in woman or that poor creature (like the Hungarian) whom you, F. Nightingale, refused, is lost, body & soul, in consequence." She also discusses her role in Madame Schwabe's war relief charity organization.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, September 21, 1866

In this letter, Nightingale explains to Madame Schwabe how to get funds to Princess Alice of Hesse Darmstadt, daughter of Queen Victoria, for her charity aiding the sick and wounded of the Austro-Prussian War. Nightingale also makes reference to friends from nursing school who were helping in the war hospitals.


Letters Concerning the Franco-Prussian War

Florence Nightingale letter to an unknown recipient

Though this letter is incomplete and we do not know the recipient or date, it was clearly written during the Franco-Prussian War. Nightingale explains that she could not participate in gathering funds unless they were for all sick and wounded on both sides of the war. She writes, “Under the present calamity, I could take no part in a Fund which should not be general - i.e. in a ‘wicked war,’ I could not subscribe for Germans because the French are wickeder - I can only know sick & wounded apart from quarrels or nations.”

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, July 23, 1870

In this brief note to Madame Schwabe, Nightingale includes a donation for the Franco-Prussian war relief charities.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, August 28, 1870

Nightingale responds to Madame Schwabe's concerns regarding the efficacy of the British war relief for the Franco-Prussian War. She sympathizes with Schwabe, but maintains the necessity of working with the National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Mrs. Russell Gurney, September 29, 1870

Nightingale informs Mrs. Russell Gurney of two ladies who want to join the ladies committee for the widows and orphans fund for the Franco-Prussian War. Nightingale explains that she is unable to join the committee due to business and illness.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, October 13, 1870

Regarding the Franco-Prussian War relief, Nightingale is sympathetic to Madame Schwabe's complaints about the British National Society for Aid to the Sick and Wounded in War (the "Aid Society"), but she also explains her relationship to that organization and support for its goals.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, October 21, 1870

Florence Nightingale reports to Madame Schwabe that Reverand Clare is donating the proceeds of a concert to the fund for widows and orphans of the Franco-Prussian War.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, October 28, 1870

In this brief note, Nightingale expresses sympathy with Madame Schwabe's troubles, probably concerning her Franco-Prussian War relief work.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, November 7, 1870

Nightingale responds to Madame Schwabe concerning their relief work for the Franco-Prussian War. Topics of discussion include the nature of Nightingale's work, Aid Society activities and leadership, and distributions to other related charities.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, November 17, 1870

Nightingale writes to her friend Madame Schwabe about expenses and difficulties associated with their war relief and hospital funding support during the Franco-Prussian War.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, December 27, 1870

Nightingale writes to Madame Schwabe about a difficult associate in the Franco-Prussian War relief effort, remarking, “How miserable it is that, in these overwhelming crushing calamities which, one would think, would at least crush out all jealousies, all conceit, all meanness, we should not be able to work all as one!” She also expresses grief about the sadness of the war. Though thankful that Britain is not in it, she is frustrated that she is not there nursing.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, December 28, 1870

With this letter to Madame Schwabe, Nightingale forwards a donation for the Widows & Orphans Fund and mentions donations to other relief charities for the Franco-Prussian War.

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, December 28, 1870

With this letter, Nightingale forwards a donation from Reverand John Denman, Rector of Newmarket, to Madame Schwabe for the War Victims' Fund Society. She also complements Mr. Denman for being “even more active & benevolent than the rest in active & benevolent England in collecting & sending contributions to nearly all the Funds raised to help the sufferers, (soldiers, peasants, widows) in this atrocious War, for the horrors of which a new word must be invented.”

 

Florence Nightingale letter, January 14, 1871

Issues discussed within these pages include the distribution of Franco-Prussian War relief funds in France and Madame Schwabe's "Widows & Orphans Fund."

 

Florence Nightingale letter to Madame Schwabe, January 23, 1871

Nightingale responds to Madame Schwabe about obtaining carbolized lint for use in Berlin, presumably for treating the wounded of the Franco-Prussian War. She also gives an update on the situation concerning a German prisoner in Calais.

 

Florence Nightingale letter, unsigned and undated

This letter is incomplete, with the recipient and date unknown. Nightingale writes about being overworked by those seeking her advice regarding army hospitals. She writes, “I am consulted by all sides as to their Army Hospital arrangements. And I always reply with my whole mind. They perfectly understand that I am at their command now & henceforth.”