Florence Nightingale’s specially customised wheelchair, which has been in a US university for over a century, could go on display in London’s Florence Nightingale Museum, if the museum can raise the money to acquire it.

When Florence Nightingale returned to Britain, following the Crimea War, she began to suffer illness, which meant that much of her writing, analysis of statistics and campaigning took place amid bouts of fever, insomnia, exhaustion and depression. The life-changing illness frequently left her bedridden, suffering from chronic fatigue and in need of a wheelchair when she was able to move around her home.

She had a specially customised wheelchair made for her to use at home.

(c) Florence Nightingale Museum

After her death in 1910, the wheelchair was kept in storage, but in 1920, the American physician Howard Kelly purchased the chair and gave it to Johns Hopkins University’s School of Nursing. “If an intimate object can convey a lesson and transmit an inspiration, may this chair suggest the spiritual presence of your great apostle of nursing and prove a blessing to the nursing school,” Kelly wrote in a letter bestowing the gift.

The university recently restored the wheelchair and is now willing to donate it to the Florence Nightingale Museum, which is based in Southwark.

However, the museum needs to raise £12,000 to cover the cost of the conservation-grade packaging and transportation to bring the wheelchair back to the UK, as well as installation costs inside the museum.

Dame Christine Beasley, Chair of the Museum and former Chief Nursing Officer, said, “This is a unique and exciting opportunity to acquire an object that we are sure will prove to be popular with visitors. The timing for this potential acquisition couldn’t be better, as we are currently working on an exhibition that will celebrate the work of those who nurse within the armed forces. This means the object will be displayed immediately upon arrival. We just need help to secure the funds.”

The fundraising campaign is here.

The last fifty years of Florence Nightingale’s life are often glossed over in favour of her Crimean efforts, but it was in this period of her life that she used statistics, research and evidence to physically change the design and structure of hospitals and their working practices in ways which remain today: architecturally, in ward design and set-up, in nurse training, hygiene practices, infection control, evidence-based healthcare, and the compassionate treatment of patients.


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