TravelByte #35: What? A Nurse on the Cover?

Recently, my sister came bebopping in and said, “Hey, did you know that Florence Nightingale is on the latest cover of Smithsonian? I did not but was extremely pleased to learn about it, as I couldn’t recall a nurse being on the cover of a non-nursing publication in decades. The Defiance of Florence Nightingale by Joshua Hammer is a brief but important piece that emphasizes her groundbreaking work in statistics, data visualization, and its impact on public health.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth (May 12, 1820-August 13, 1910). To celebrate the Florence Nightingale Museum in London is featuring a special exhibit. Amazingly, you can hear Florence in her own voice speaking in this recording from July 30, 1890.

It’s great to see Nightingale’s contributions written about for non-nurses and our thanks to The Smithsonian for doing so. I hope there will be more articles addressing the vast contributions of other nurses as well. There’s certainly no shortage of those.

Data Visualization

The way we visualize information can have a tremendous influence on our ability to inform and persuade. A simple diagram can speak volumes in powerful ways. It can convey key messages and immediately assist observers to detect the forest through the trees.

Not only did Nightingale keep meticulous records she summarized her work in this now famous, original graph that clearly illustrated that soldiers were dying more from disease than anything else.


The field of data visualization didn’t begin or end with Nightingale and has really taken off in recent years. One major contributor is Edward Tufte, Yale Professor Emeritus in Political Science, Computer Science & Statistics & Senior Critic, School of Art. As I give a lot of presentations, I attended a workshop of his several years ago and learned a tremendous amount. He’s written extensively on the subject and I urge you to explore his works.

If you want to read more about Florence Nightingale, there are certainly many publications out there but a favorite of mine is Florence Nightingale: Mystic, Visionary, Healer by nurse Barbara Montgomery Dossey which is a well-researched illustrated biography and includes gems like the letter Ghandi wrote about her work.  There are also some informative appendices for travel health nerds like me, “The Case for Brucellosis” that Nightingale may have contracted and the source of her chronic health problems.

Julie Richards, Past President