Who was the first British woman to receive the Order of Merit?


On the 29th November 1907, Florence Nightingale became the first woman in Britain to receive the Order of Merit.

For her services to nursing during the Crimean War, Florence Nightingale was honoured by King Edward VII a couple of years before her death aged ninety years.

Born in 1820, Florence is well known as the founder of nursing.

In 1854 she’d lead a group of thirty eight trained volunteer nurses to the Selimiye Barracks in Scutari (Istanbul, Turkey) to care for British soldiers injured in the Crimean war.

Florence Nightingale wasn’t the first British woman to see the connections between disease and dirt.

In the Liverpool cholera outbreak in 1832 a local washerwoman, Kitty Wilkinson offered her boiler and facilities to local people and campaigned for a public washhouse. Known locally as the Saint of the Slums, Catherine Wilkinson was born into a hard life of domestic service both before and after her marriage to a sailor who drowned at sea. She acquired a mangle, re-married and started working in her own laundry.

Also in Liverpool, wealthy entrepreneur and business man William Rathbone needed a nurse for his sick wife. In 1859 he employed a nurse named Mary Robinson to care for his wife and after her death he continued to pay for Mary Robinson to go into the poorest areas of Liverpool to nurse those who were too poor to pay for their own care. This lead him to meet with Florence Nightingale and he used some of his wealth to introduce a system of district nursing for the poor in their own homes.

The following year, 1860, Florence opened the first nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London. Her later work in public health and improving the lives of women was backed up by extensive writing on medical and other subjects.

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