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School of Nursing adds eight original letters written by Florence Nightingale to collection

  • June 09, 2020
The eight letters join the School of Nursing’s original 50 letters already held at UAB.

Nightingale2The eight new letters join UAB's existing collection of 50 original letters by Florence Nightingale. Eight additional original letters written by the founder of modern-day nursing Florence Nightingale have joined the 50 original letters already held in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Florence Nightingale Letters Collection, and will soon be on digital display in the UAB School of Nursing’s Barrett Brock MacKay Florence Nightingale Exhibit

These letters were donated by The Upper Room Christian Art Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, part of The Upper Room, the headquarters of an international ministry of the United Methodist Church, upon the closure of the museum in January 2020. The letters are now held in the Reynolds-Finley Historical Library on behalf of the UAB School of Nursing. 

The eight new letters provide a unique teaching tool across undergraduate and graduate programs in the UAB School of Nursing.

“Nursing is not necessarily a profession people consider when thinking about studying the impact history has on our work today; but the lessons learned from Florence Nightingale and her work in cleanliness, sanitation and hygiene continue to be relevant today, especially as we work to fight the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Doreen C. Harper, Ph.D., UAB School of Nursing dean and Fay B. Ireland Endowed Chair in Nursing. “There are crucial lessons that she documented for us in all of our letters, and we can apply this knowledge from the classroom to practice, improving the health and lives of people and families everywhere.” 

Retired UAB School of Nursing Professor Carol Dashiff, Ph.D., was visiting The Upper Room Museum just before it closed to see its famous nativity collection. On their way out, she and her friend spoke with the now-retired curator, Kathryn Kimball. Not only did they find out the museum was looking for a new home for much of its collection, they discovered the collection also included original Florence Nightingale letters.

“It was serendipitous,” Dashiff said. “When she said they were looking for another group to take them, I immediately told her about UAB and its letters and gave her the dean’s name and UAB School of Nursing.”

Kimball called Harper, and together they orchestrated the transfer and donation of letters. Soon after, the letters made their way to UAB.  

“Dr. Carol Dashiff is a scholar and has a deep appreciation of Nightingale’s contributions to the history of nursing and health care,” Harper said. “We are so grateful to Carol, so excited to add these additional eight letters to UAB’s Nightingale Letter Collection and Display.” 

The new letters range in date from 1855 to 1893 and discuss topics such as public health in India and Nightingale’s ongoing charity and relief work, which are also covered in the original letters donated by Dr. Lawrence Reynolds in 1958. They further demonstrate that Nightingale gathered information and exerted influence on those within the British government in relation to India and public health. Not only did she maintain an active correspondence with physician and health officer Thomas Gillham Hewlett in India, but she also kept abreast of parliamentary discussions and met with the secretary of state for India, Sir Stafford Northcote, to review the public health situation.

One of the new letters concerns Nightingale’s well-known hospital work in Balaklava during the Crimean War, the experience that originally made her a famous and heroic figure not only to the nursing profession but to all of health and health care. 

The new letters, along with the originals, can be viewed online here via the Reynolds-Finley Historical Library’s Digital Collections.