The Power of Writing

Writing can take many forms and fill for many purposes. It can entertain, inform, help us gain clarity or spark progress. Florence Nightingale first used writing to sort her thoughts as she struggled with self-definition in the face of restrictive social norms and later, as you are well aware, she used it to ignite worldwide health care reforms. It’s because of Nightingale that we now wash our hands so often.

According to Caroline Worthington, director of the Florence Nightingale Museum, “When she [Nightingale] started out, there was no such thing as nursing. Hospitals were places of last resort where the floors were laid with straw to soak up the blood.”

The power of imagery

It was hard to fathom during the Victorian era that a woman born into a wealthy British family would have the determination and ingenuity to introduce hygiene practices, save the British army and pioneer healthcare for everyone.

Nightingale’s nickname as the “Lady with the Lamp” arose during the Crimean war, where she volunteered to improve conditions for wounded and sick soldiers. Every night, she visited thousands of casualties ­holding a Turkish paper lantern. It was later immortalised by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, 19th-century American poet, in the poem ‘Santa Filomena‘:

“Lo! in that house of misery

A lady with a lamp I see

Pass through the glimmering gloom,

And flit from room to room.”

This caring image was of great consequence because Nightingale used it to further her cause. She was so much more than the “Lady with the Lamp”. She was a pioneering statistician who used data visualisation to persuade the government of the need for change. She was the first one to use pie charts and developed the “Rose diagram” to communicate the terrible state of the army’s health to great effect. “The truth she uncovered was shocking – 16,000 of the 18,000 deaths were not due to battle wounds but to preventable diseases, spread by poor sanitation.” The reforms that followed changed people’s perceptions about nursing, establishing it as the respectable profession it is today.

Nightingale’s legacy

In 1860 she established the world’s first professional school of nursing at St Thomas’ Hospital which continues to teach nurses and midwives as part of King’s College London. Her book, Notes on Nursing served as the cornerstone for carers everywhere. And while she did not know the bacterial theory of infectious diseases, she realised that absolute cleanliness, fresh air, pure water, light, and efficient drainage are the surest means of preventing them.”

She played a key role in the passage of legislation that put health care decisions in the hands of local officials. But her accomplishments soon expanded past the confines of hospitals as “she worked to shed light on the crushing medical, emotional and financial burdens of Britain’s poor. “

The Nightingale Pen

In her later life, Nightingale used Onoto pens. We crafted the Nightingale Pen to honour her iconic personality – bold, driven, opinionated, yet caring and kind – and the countless ways in which she improved our lives. The Nightingale pen is made available in a limited edition of 200, to mark Nightingale's 200th birthday in 2020.

The monochrome, black and white, design of the pen reflects the historic nursing uniforms of the late 1800s and early 1900s. The white mother of pearl glimmers like hope that the “Lady with the Lamp” brought to those suffering. While its translucent effect symbolises purity and for those more philosophically inclined, it represents a collective human worry about our lack of substance. Nightingale’s early writings, you see, revealed a fear of her ideas being ineffective. She couldn’t have been more wrong. However, that’s when she used the power of writing to set herself on course.

Her story is a stark reminder of what individual willpower can do for global progress.

And to us, avid writers, it’s also an inspiration for penmanship and its versatile uses.

What are you waiting for? Fill that fountain pen and make your eternal mark.