Monday Morning Math: Florence Nightingale


The mathematician this week is Florence Nightingale (1820-1910). WHAT??? Yes, she is most known for being a nurse, but many do not realize that Florence Nightingale was also a mathematician and data collector and is known to be one of the most prominent statisticians in history. Quite something for a woman in the 1850s.

Born in 1820 to wealthy parents, as a child, her father fostered her education in history, philosophy and literature, but she was gifted in math and the languages. Florence Nightingale was grounded in her religious beliefs and said she was “called by God” to “reduce human suffering” and as such pursued a career in nursing.

It was as a nurse during the Crimean War (1853-1856) in the Scutari, Turkey Barrack Hospital in 1856 that she collected data on the care of the wounded soldiers, recording information about how the soldiers died and “bringing order and method to the hospital’s statistical records.” The analysis of this data prompted Florence Nightingale to demand better care and more food and supplies for the soldiers in the hospital as well as the implementation of better hygiene and cleaning procedures. Florence Nightingale used her data to show the need for standards of care and “her accomplishments reduced the mortality rate to about 2 percent.”

Thus, it is said “her work in statistics saved lives.” She also earned the title “the Lady with the Lamp” from the soldiers for whom she cared since she made rounds in the evenings carrying a lamp through the hallways.

Florence Nightingale is credited with being an innovator in displaying statistical data through graphs (infographics). She uses a Coxcomb graph or Rose Chart (similar to a pie chart) in 1858 to illustrate the improvements to the mortality rate of soldiers in the hospital after her cleaning and sanitation procedures were adopted. Two years after returning from Crimea, Florence Nightingale was elected the first female member of the Statistical Society in 1858.


This post was generously written by our own Tracy Lyn Lause. Thanks Tracy!


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