The dedication of a towering 9-foot bronze statue of Florence Nightingale in front of UT Health San Antonio’s School of Nursing on March 4, 2022, realized a vision to provide a tangible reminder of the past that also points to the future.
“It had to be Florence Nightingale. There is no larger image in modern health care and nursing than Florence Nightingale,” Kathleen R. Stevens-Hamilton, EdD, MS, RN, ANEF, FAAN, a professor in aging research for the School of Nursing, told Tribute magazine, a school publication.
Dr. Stevens and husband Alexander B. Hamilton, a businessman and long-time arts supporter, commissioned and gifted the statue by Texas sculptor Rick McCumber, who primarily had been known as a cowboy artist and silversmith. William L. Henrich, MD, MACP, president of UT Health San Antonio, joined the couple and other guests at the statue’s dedication, honoring the founder of modern nursing.
“It is fitting and proper that the faculty, the students, visitors, staff who pass through these doors to our fine School of Nursing should be greeted every day by Florence Nightingale,” Dr. Henrich said. “And as they are welcomed by her, we will always be reminded of the healing light nursing brings to recovery. And of the foundational importance nurses always play in every aspect of human health.”
The distinctive work is called “Light the Future.” It depicts Nightingale holding high a lantern with her right hand, as she did while making her rounds at night treating the wounded during the Crimean War in the 1850s, where she gained prominence as a British nurse manager and trainer.
The statue’s left hand seems to point in the direction of the nursing building’s entrance, “beckoning students to enter their future through the School of Nursing,” as Hamilton puts it. It is all very intentional, as the couple not only conceived the idea for the statue but stayed close with the artist throughout its design and production.
They first discussed the idea in 2019, with an eye toward the 2020 Year of the Nurse, observing the 200th anniversary of Nightingale’s birth – an observance that would stretch into 2021 because of the pandemic.
While Nightingale is credited with founding the profession of nursing, she was more than that, even, Dr. Stevens told Tribute. “Today’s interprofessional health care system and hospital design continue to be influenced by Nightingale’s innovations in nursing and health care in the mid-1800s.”
On the front lines of the Crimean War – fought between Russia and an alliance primarily of France, the Ottoman Empire and the United Kingdom – Nightingale called attention to deplorable hospital sanitation conditions, with detailed data and charts to back it up.
In England, she pushed for far-reaching public health policy reform that would result in more resources to clean up hospitals and establish formal training for nurses, Dr. Stevens said, and she was lauded as an early epidemiologist.
Searching for an artist, the couple met McCumber who had a booth at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, displaying his Western sculptures. They were so struck by the detail of his bronze statues that they approached him for their project. McCumber and his wife, Cindy, of Huntsville, Texas, met with the couple and Eileen T. Breslin, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of the School of Nursing, who endorsed the idea for the new statue.
McCumber started with pencil sketches, and moved on meticulously with clay models that eventually gave way to a 9-foot bronze statue, with the couple making frequent trips to McCumber’s Huntsville studio over many months to approve each step. By December 2020, the statue was final.
Sadly, McCumber died unexpectedly in January 2021, just a month after completing what Hamilton would describe as “the apex” of an accomplished career as a self-taught cowboy artist. “This will be his legacy as well,” Hamilton said.
The statue would stay in storage many more months before its unveiling, again due to the pandemic.
In her interview with Tribute, Dr. Stevens reflected on her own nearly 50-year career, as well as her husband’s and McCumber’s achievements. “They say if you give the next generation roots and wings, you have done them well. These are the roots. We give the next generation of health care professionals roots because Florence Nightingale had such an impact on health professions.
“And now this art symbolizes wings for the next generation of nurses by lighting their future,” she said.
Go here to read the full story of the Light the Future statue in Tribute.