Exhibition reveals another side to Lady of the Lamp

Recently discovered personal letters show the challenges Florence Nightingale faced in becoming a nurse

Florence Nightingale enjoyed fashion, bucked expectations of her social class and influenced the design of one of Yorkshire’s biggest hospitals.

Credit: Simon Hulme

These are some of the little known elements of the celebrated nurse's life, revealed in correspondence with her cousin Marianne Nicholson that forms the centrepiece of a new exhibition at Lotherton Hall in Leeds.

The letters, recently discovered in Trelissick House in Cornwall, a former home of Miss Nicholson's daughter, give an insight into Miss Nightingale’s life before and after the Crimean War. They show her frustrations as a young woman as she stood up to pressure from her family to marry and run a household, and chose instead to go into nursing, which was seen as work for the lower classes.

Sketches made by her cousin of Miss Nightingale in ball gowns reveal a more frivolous side to the dour Lady of the Lamp image.

They also highlight her role in influencing the design of wards in the new Leeds General Infirmary so that they were light, airy, healthier environments.

The ‘Our Cousin Florence’ exhibition opened on March 18 and runs until December.

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