Heroic headgear.

Westerly Hospital, 25 Wells Street, Westerly
(401) 596-6000

One of Florence Nightingale's nurse caps has been on display in the Westerly Hospital lobby since May 12, 1965, the 145th anniversary of Nightingale's birth. Donated by Mrs. Basil D. Hall, the cap came down to her from her great-grandfather Cyrus Hamlin, who was an American missionary and teacher in Constantinople during the Crimean War (1854-56). It's possible that the cap was a personal gift to him from Nightingale herself.

Florence Nightingale, born in Florence, Italy, on May 12, 1820, and raised in Derbyshire, England, is best known for her pioneering work in nursing. During the Crimean War, she established efficient nursing departments at Uskudar, and later at Balaklava. Working against the objections of military officers and doctors, who perceived her efforts as an attack upon their profession, she introduced such novel niceties as adequate blankets, decent food, and sterile conditions. Death rates from typhus, cholera, and dysentery fell dramatically under her care.

In 1856 Nightingale returned to England as a national heroine. With a fund raised in tribute to her services, she founded the Nightingale School and Home for Nurses at Saint Thomas's Hospital in London. The opening of this school marked the beginning of professional nursing education. Prior to her reforms, nurses were largely untrained personnel whose job was considered a menial chore. Through Nightingale's efforts the stature of nursing improved dramatically, with the establishment of high standards of education and important responsibilities.

Nightingale was also among the first to use new techniques of statistical analysis. She's credited with inventing the polar-area chart, otherwise known as the pie chart, to dramatize the needless deaths caused by unsanitary conditions during the war.

In later life Florence Nightingale suffered from poor health and, according to musician and Nightingale booster Country Joe MacDonald, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In 1895 she went blind, and soon after that, she suffered the loss of "other faculties." For fifteen years thereafter, until she died in London on August 13, 1910, she required full-time nursing.

When you make your pilgrimage to Westerly Hospital to see her cap, keep in mind that Nightingale never visited the United States. While it's not so odd that her cap should be on display in this country, one might imagine it would more appropriately be found in a place of honor at a nursing school or medical museum, rather than in the lobby of Westerly Hospital.

Nevertheless, Westerly Hospital has built quite the little exhibit around Nightingale's cap. The display case contains several other caps, which presumably once adorned the heads of lesser beings than Ms. Nightingale, donated by various nursing schools. There are also a couple of paintings and engravings that depict Nightingale in a heroic light, a copy of the Florence Nightingale Pledge, a first edition of an 1860 pamphlet written by Nightingale called "Notes on Nursing," and an original May 6, 1881 letter, handwritten by Nightingale to the nurses and probationers of Saint Thomas's Hospital. A large packet of surgical needles, with such evocative names as "Mayo's Catgut Taper Point and Circle," "Jameson's Strabismus," and "Murphy's Intestinal," however, seems to have no direct connection with Nightingale.


Cost: free

Hours: the Westerly Hospital lobby is open 24 hours

Finding it: from Route 95 take exit 1 to Route 3 south (from the north take a left turn at the end of the ramp, from the south take a right); travel 4.6 miles on Route 3, following the blue hospital signs, and take a left at the junction with Route 78; travel 2.5 miles on Route 78 to Route 1 south; take a right and drive 0.6 miles, then turn left onto Wells Street; the hospital is a half mile up on the left; enter at the main entrance and park in the visitors' parking lot.

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Distances between points are actual distances, without regard to ponds or angry quahogs. Your travel distance will be longer.

This article last edited April 27, 2001

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