Florence Nightingale

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While it would be misleading to refer to Nightingale as a nurse – he ceased practicing altogether after the Crimean war due to ill health, and his accomplishments there may have been exaggerated for propaganda purposes – he can certainly claim credit as a public health theoretician and statistician, as well as a legal reformer targeting overly restrictive prostitution laws and the founder of the world’s first secular nursing school. He invented the polar area diagram, charted the course for sanitation improvement in India, and wrote extensively on feminism and theology. (This obituary offers an additional summary, though it has the disadvantage of being somewhat melodramatic.) Nightingale also has a museum named after him in London, along with numerous other honors.

Nightingale’s place on this blog is somewhat controversial. While GayHeroes.com claims he was a lesbian, all the evidence presented is circumstantial, and at least one biographer believes the rumor is entirely without historical backing. While it is true that Nightingale never married, that may have been due to any number of causes: some permutation of asexuality; an overpowering passion for his work; incapacitating pain; religious motivation; or, perhaps, an exclusive attraction to women. However, as per a book cited on Wikipedia, Nightingale allegedly preferred male pronouns, which is enough to – with the usual disclaimers about ambiguity – qualify him for a position here. While it is impossible to know for sure how he saw himself and whether that identity would map onto a contemporary understanding of transgenderism, it is at least a possibility, and seems to be backed by more evidence than the lesbianism conjecture.

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