The worldwide celebration of the bicentennial of the birth of Florence Nightingale (1820-1910) and the parallel designation of 2020 as “The International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife” recognizes her immense contribution not just to the creation of the nursing profession but also to modern health care in general. It seems a good time, then, to explore the origins and creation of Archives & Special Collections’ own trove of Nightingaliana, now known as the Auchincloss Florence Nightingale Collection.
Even in her lifetime, Nightingale was considered the “patron saint” of the nursing profession she created. After her death, this esteem was reflected in the creation of “Florence Nightingale Collections” of letters and artifacts at schools of nursing, especially in the English-speaking countries.
The origin of our own collection has a specific date and story. At the May 1932 commencement of the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing (now the Columbia University School of Nursing), Dr. Hugh Auchincloss, attending surgeon at Presbyterian and professor of surgery at Columbia’s medical school, presented a gift of 18 Nightingale letters and two books by her on the occasion of his daughter Maria Sloan Auchincloss’s graduation from the School and in memory of his mother, also named Maria Sloan Auchincloss. In his letter to Dean Helen Young accompanying the donation, Auchincloss wrote that he hoped the letters would “live on and inspire those who, like their author, have felt a consecrated desire to be of service to their fellow men.”
The gift was enthusiastically received and was quickly put on display in a special “Nightingale Room” in the School of Nursing’s home, Maxwell Hall. Additions soon came from Auchincloss, other members of his family, and from “friends of the School.” In 1933, the collection received a copy of the first edition (1859) of Nightingale’s landmark work, Notes on Nursing (we now have eight copies of the first edition, one with a gift inscription from Nightingale); the next year five more Nightingale letters were added; in 1937 Hugh Auchincloss donated more letters, including some from Nightingale’s time working with the troops during the Crimean War, and later that year his brother Charles gave an important series of 14 of her letters to Sir John Strachey on health matters in India. The first catalog of the collection, published in 1937, shows it had 76 letters, 6 pictures, and 20 books. Read More→