Mary Seacole (1805-1881)

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Seacole’s father was a Scottish soldier and her mother was Jamaican. Born at a time when many black people in the Caribbean were forced to be slaves, Seacole was a ‘free person’ due to being mixed-race. Seacole’s mother was a healer who used traditional Caribbean/African medicine to treat people, teaching many of these skills to her daughter.

Seacole became one of the first nurses to recognise and practise modern nursing (despite her lack of formal education) including the use of hygiene, ventilation, hydration and rest. Seacole’s mother and other Jamaican nurses were practising the use of good hygiene almost a century before Florence Nightingale wrote about its importance.

In 1850, Seacole nursed people during the cholera epidemic in Jamaica which killed around 40,000 people – 10 % of the island’s population at the time. When the Crimean War began, Seacole offered her services to the British Army, but her application was rejected by the British War Office. Undeterred, Seacole funded her own trip to Crimea and established a hotel sear Sevastopol that housed sick and recovering soldiers. She also rode on horseback into the battlefields to nurse wounded soldiers on the front lines.

Seacole died in London on 14 May 1881. In 2004, more than 10,000 people voted her the Greatest Ever Black Briton. Aside from her medical achievements, Seacole will be remembered as a brilliant woman who combated the racial prejudice she experienced in her lifetime.

Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)

Born in Florence, Italy to a wealthy family, Nightingale defied the expectations of the time and pursued what she saw as her God-given calling of nursing.

In 1854, the year after the Crimean War began, Nightingale received a letter from the British Secretary of War Sidney Herbert, asking her to organise a corps of nurses to tend to the sick and fallen soldiers of the war. She was a Nurse Superintendent in London at the time. Given full control of the operation, she assembled a team of almost three dozen nurses and sailed with them to Turkey just a few days later. At Scutari, the British base hospital in Constantinople (now Istanbul), Nightingale and her team of nurses improved the unsanitary conditions, greatly reducing the death count. She was known for her night rounds to aid the wounded, establishing her image as the ‘Lady with the Lamp.’

Nightingale was a trailblazing figure in nursing who greatly affected 19th and 20th century medical care policies; her writings upon returning home sparked worldwide health care reform. Queen Victoria granted Nightingale a prize of $250,000 from the British government, which she used to further her cause; in 1860, she funded the establishment of St. Thomas’ Hospital, and within it, the Nightingale Training School for Nurses.

In 1907, she was conferred the Order of Merit by King Edward, and received the Freedom of the City of London the following year – becoming the first woman to receive the honour. In May 1910, she received a celebratory message from King George on her 90th birthday, a few months before her passing. A revered hero of her time, Nightingale is broadly acknowledged as the pioneer of modern nursing.

Edith Cavell (1865-1915)

Born in Norfolk, Cavell began her nursing career at 30 – after caring for her father during his serious illness.

She was credited with pioneering new nursing techniques in Belgium and treating all soldiers who needed help, regardless of their nationality.

Cavell helped more than 200 Allied soldiers escape the First World War to the safety of neutral Holland. Her dangerous work was discovered and she was tried for treason with 35 others in August 1915.

Despite an international plea for mercy, the 49-year-old Red Cross nurse was shot dead by a firing squad two months later. Her death on October 12th 1915 sent shock waves around the world. The Red Cross Journal at the time reported that Edith Cavell’s “patriotism, courage and dignity have caught the imagination of millions and will be commemorated for ages.”

In the Church of England’s calendar of saints, the day appointed for the commemoration of Cavell is October 12th.

Princess Campbell MBE (1939-2015)

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Campbell arrived in Bristol in 1962 after hearing government radio appeals for public sector workers. She trained as a nurse and became the city’s first black ward sister, working at Glenside Hospital in Fishponds. Campbell was a key figure in Bristol’s fight against racial prejudice and discrimination.

In the 80s, Campbell helped set up the United Housing Association, in response to the difficulties black people experienced finding affordable accommodation. UHA also built nursing homes and sheltered housing for multicultural residents.

Campbell was awarded an MBE in 2011 for services to the community. Huge crowds lined the streets of Easton for her funeral procession in 2015.

Dame Claire Bertschinger (1953-)

Born in Essex, Bertschinger is a nurse and advocate on behalf of suffering people in the developing world.

In spite of dyslexia (barely able to read or write until the age of 14), Bertschinger settled on her passion after watching the film ‘The Inn of the Sixth Happiness’. After training as a nurse in the UK, Bertschinger worked in several zones of conflict over the years, including Afghanistan, Sudan and Sierra Leone.

Whilst in Ethiopia during the 1984 famine, she was interviewed by a BBC News crew. This report inspired Bob Geldof to launch Band Aid, followed by Live Aid in 1985 – the biggest relief programme ever mounted, raising more than £150 million and saving an estimated 2 million lives in Africa.

Bertschinger received the Florence Nightingale Medal in 1991 for her advocacy and tireless work in nursing, and was made a Dame by the Queen 2010 for services to nursing and international humanitarian aid. Today, she is the Director for Professional Diploma in Tropical Nursing, at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). In her spare times, she does voluntary work and is a patron for several charities in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nepal and in the UK.