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Florence Nightingale, a young Victorian, is stunned to discover that hospital nurses are often women of low morals and no training. Frustrated by her uselessness as a woman of polite society, Florence decides to go to Europe to train as a nurse in order to reform medical care. On her return, however, she finds that no hospital will hire her. When the Crimean War is declared, Florence convinces the British Ministry of War that she should undertake a reorganization of hospitals at the front. Although wartime nurses traditionally have been male, Florence organizes a contingent of thirty-eight dedicated women. Dr. Hunt, the doctor in charge of the hospital at Scutari, thinks these women are merely do-gooders and gives them the most difficult assignments to discourage them, but Florence is equal to any task, and soon conditions are vastly improved for the wounded and sick. London Times reporter Mr. Fuller makes Florence's work known to the British at home, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writes the poem "Lady with the Lamp" in her honor. Hearing reports that conditions at the front are terrible, Florence leaves a few trusted nurses behind and heads off to take charge. At Balaklava, she is faced again with Hunt's ill will. Finally Lord Raglan, the commander in chief, intervenes in her favor. Florence takes her nursing into the trenches where she catches cholera and almost dies. Despite Hunt's efforts to prove that women nurses are incompetent, the death rate under her administration is drastically reduced, and Hunt becomes Florence's reluctant defender. After the war, Florence tries to establish nursing schools in England, but encounters the same obstacles as in war time. Finally Queen Victoria hears her pleas and presents her with a commemorative brooch, making her the first woman to receive the Order of Merit.