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Nightingale’s Soldiers Died in Crimean Cesspool: Lewis Lapham

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Lewis Lapham
Lewis Lapham of Lapham's Quarterly in New York. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

April 30 (Bloomberg) -- When Florence Nightingale arrived at the British hospital in Scutari, Turkey on Nov. 4, 1854, she found the wounded, sick and dying jammed together on lice-ridden mattresses. Water was scarce, heating nonexistent and wooden tubs lining the corridors provided toilet facilities for the many cholera-ridden patients.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

As the Crimean War raged, Nightingale worked 20 hours a day feeding, medicating and washing the men. She overcame the military bureaucracy, adamantly opposed to female nurses at the front, to purchase new boilers, streamline the kitchens, and hire laundresses and cleaners for the wards.

For all her efforts, the death rate of patients at Scutari rose to 52 percent, and that winter 4,000 soldiers died, most of them not even wounded.

A sanitary commission sent over from England determined that the Barrack Hospital was built over a cesspool and that the sewers were leaking into the drinking water.

I spoke with Orlando Figes, author of “The Crimean War,” on the following topics:

1. Religious Conflict

2. First Modern War

3. Military Blunders

4. Siege of Sevastopol

5. Shaping the Future

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at

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