Nightingale came to prominence while serving as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, in which she organised care for wounded soldiers. She gave nursing a favourable reputation and became an icon of Victorian culture, especially in the persona of "The Lady with the Lamp" making rounds of wounded soldiers at night.
Recent commentators have asserted Nightingale's Crimean War achievements were exaggerated by media at the time, but critics agree on the importance of her later work in professionalising nursing roles for women. In 1860, Nightingale laid the foundation of professional nursing with the establishment of her nursing school at St Thomas' Hospital in London. It was the first secular nursing school in the world, and is now part of King's College London. In recognition of her pioneering work in nursing, the Nightingale Pledge taken by new nurses, and the Florence Nightingale Medal, the highest international distinction a nurse can achieve, were named in her honour, and the annual International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world on her birthday. Her social reforms included improving healthcare for all sections of British society, advocating better hunger relief in India, helping to abolish prostitution laws that were harsh for women, and expanding the acceptable forms of female participation in the workforce.
Nightingale was a prodigious and versatile writer. In her lifetime, much of her published work was concerned with spreading medical knowledge. Some of her tracts were written in simple English so that they could easily be understood by those with poor literary skills. She was also a pioneer in the use of infographics, effectively using graphical presentations of statistical data. Much of her writing, including her extensive work on religion and mysticism, has only been published posthumously.
Florence Nightingale was born on 12 May 1820 into a rich, upper-class, well-connected British family at the Villa Colombaia, in Florence, Tuscany, Italy, and was named after the city of her birth. Florence's older sister Frances Parthenope had similarly been named after her place of birth, Parthenope, a Greek settlement now part of the city of Naples. The family moved back to England in 1821, with Nightingale being brought up in the family's homes at Embley, Hampshire and Lea Hurst, Derbyshire.
Florence inherited a liberal-humanitarian outlook from both sides of her family. Her parents were William Edward Nightingale, born William Edward Shore (1794–1874) and Frances ("Fanny") Nightingale née Smith (1789–1880). William's mother Mary née Evans was the niece of Peter Nightingale, under the terms of whose will William inherited his estate at Lea Hurst, and assumed the name and arms of Nightingale. Fanny's father (Florence's maternal grandfather) was the abolitionist and Unitarian William Smith. Nightingale's father educated her.