Go back to article: A statistical campaign: Florence Nightingale and Harriet Martineau’s England and her Soldiers

Publication and legacy

When England and her Soldiers was published, Nightingale applied to her friend Colonel Lefroy (the inspector general of army schools) for permission to send a copy to each regiment, but was refused. Though Lefroy admired the book, the request was vetoed by Sidney Herbert, by then Chair of the Royal Commission (Matthew, 2009 [2004]), as he feared it would make the men ‘discontented’ (Nightingale, 2010 [21 August 1859], p 1008).

It is difficult to quantify the success or otherwise of England and her Soldiers. Gradual, but significant, changes were made to the governance of army healthcare in the years that followed its publication, including the creation of a permanent Army Sanitary Committee (Bostridge, 2008, pp 343–344). Outside of Britain, the book became popular amongst American medical professionals. In 1861, Martineau wrote to Nightingale:

Our book, England and her Soldiers, is at present quoted largely and incessantly in American medical journals, as a guide in the newness of military management in the Northern states […] the medical journals are learning from us; and I am sure you will be glad to hear it (Martineau, 2009 [20 September 1861], p 148).

England and her Soldiers was one part of a broader campaign, by Nightingale, Martineau and others. Many of the subsequent legislative changes are likely to have been kick-started by Nightingale’s earlier work on the Royal Commission; as such, it is impossible to say whether England and her Soldiers directly influenced the reforms that followed it. Nonetheless, it remains a fascinating example of the way Nightingale and Martineau were attempting to communicate statistical data and hard facts to a general audience, and demonstrates their remarkable commitment to their cause.



With thanks to the Florence Nightingale Museum and in particular to Head Curator Natasha McEnroe for her advice on including the book in the Mathematics Gallery. I am grateful also for guidance and support from Kate Steiner, Richard Nicholls, and my colleagues on the mathematics gallery project, David Rooney (Lead Curator), Claire Kennard (Assistant Curator), and Jessica Bradford (Interpretation Manager). Finally, my thanks to the peer reviewer for their useful suggestions.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/160504/005