Florence in her own words:
Nightingale, like most Victorians, was raised to believe that diseases were caused by ‘miasma’ or foul air. However, over the course of her work, she came to accept the new idea of germ theory, which we still understand to be correct today. Writing in 1882 she said:
“always have chlorinated soda for nurses to wash their hands, especially after dressing or handling a suspicious case. It may destroy germs at the expense of the cuticle, but if it takes off the cuticle, it must be bad for the germs.”
Over the course of the nineteenth century microscope technology improved and enabled more people to see some of the microorganisms (also called pathogens or germs) which cause illness. This print shows a woman’s look of horror after she sees for the first time the germs in Thames river water.
Engraving: ‘Monster Soup…’ by William Heath. Credit: Wellcome Collection. CC BY 4.0