Blue collage of Florence Nightingale imagery.

Florence Nightingale is a Design Hero

May her light forever shine bright.

RJ Andrews
Published in
13 min readJul 15, 2019


Founder of modern nursing. Feminist champion. Celebrity entrepreneur. Passionate statistician. Political operator. Data visualization pioneer. Florence Nightingale was all of these, yet none capture Nightingale’s seminal effect — something better felt through her prose:

It is as criminal to have a mortality of 17, 19, and 20 per thousand in the Line, Artillery and Guards, when that in civil life is only 11 per 1,000, as it would be to take 1,100 men out upon Salisbury Plain and shoot them.

The Englishwoman who wrote take 1,100 men out upon Salisbury Plain and shoot them. That’s the Florence Nightingale I want to understand.

HHeroic design begins with a plan for selfless victory. It is accomplished with the courage to see the plan through. Nightingale tackled some of the ugliest problems her society had to offer. If we see the problems she endeavored to solve then we may begin to better appreciate her victories.

Before Nightingale, the sick were cared for by untrained widows, ex-servants, and paupers. These dissolute “nurses” were dismissed by Charles Dickens as incompetent, corrupt, and more interested in gin than patient welfare. Religious orders served the sick only marginally better: their holy focus was to prepare souls for judgment, not effective medical reform.

Crimean War Hospital at Sebastopol showing appalling conditions. Detail of wood engraving after E.A. Goodall, 1855. Credit: Wellcome Collection.

Before Nightingale, disease destroyed military campaigns. Hospital barracks overflowed with waste. Linens returned from the laundry with vermin. Red tape choked the arrival of meager bandage and food supplies. Dying patients crowded on floors of blood-soaked straw. Dysentery, cholera, and typhus raged mortality rates to levels that exceeded London’s Great Plague. In 1995 Howard Wainer quipped, “for the British soldier the least dangerous aspect of the Crimean War was the opposing army.”