Our Heroes Past

“To do what nobody else will do, a way that nobody else can do, in spite of all we go through; is to be a nurse.” 

These are the words of Rawsi Williams, a nurse and a lawyer, with which I agree; the reminder of who we are and what we do span beyond international nurses week, but it is a great avenue to talk about this; this piece is a reminisce of what nurses have done in the past and the feat we are capable of.

Born into slavery, Harriet Tubman is well known as a conductor of the underground rail. 

Harriet Tubman

Accounts about her life as a conductor only documented how she saved a lot of enslaved people after she escaped slavery, but her life as a nurse was not really documented; this brave woman made 19 trips through the underground rail, and none of the enslaved people she helped died or came to harm.

She was a nurse in South Carolina who worked during the war but was not given any pension for her services.

Her pension based on her husband’s services in the civil war of $8 was increased to $20; this was the highest recognition she received. She went ahead to establish a charity home for older people in 1908.

Kofoworola Abeni Pratt, this name will probably ring a bell to any black nurse; the name is a household name in the world of nursing, and she is the first black person to become a registered nurse

Kofoworola Abeni Pratt – Bing Images

However, Pratt did not start her career as a nurse even though she wanted to be a nurse early in life. 

Her father was against it, so she studied to become a teacher at United Missionary College and taught at CMS Girls School from 1936 to 1940. 

She married in 1941 and left Lagos for Enugu with her husband, Eugene Samuel Oluremi (Olu) Pratt

The family left for London, where her passion for nursing was ignited. She experienced a lot of racial discrimination, but this did not stop her; she graduated and started work in the NHS, making her the first black woman to achieve this feat. 

She worked in the NHS for four years before moving back to Nigeria; she was initially denied the position of a ward sister, but she got a place with the help of her colleagues at University College Hospital; the British held this position at this time. 

Her accommodation was in a different block than her British colleagues, and the Professor of Medicine did not allow her to work in the ward because she was a Nigerian. With the support of the Hospital Matron, she was moved to the medical ward at Adeoyo Hospital, Ibadan. Despite the discrimination she encountered, she achieved an admirable feat, starting a School of Nursing in Ibadan and serving as the Commissioner of Health under the military governor, Mobolaji Johnson.

Married during the Nigerian Civil War in what many called a ‘state wedding’ to General Yakubu Gowon in 1969, Victoria Hansatu Gowon was born in 1946.

Gowon and Victoria wedding images – Bing Images

During the post-colonial era, discrimination and segregation did not stop because of independence; there was a significant difference in pay and a union of Nigeria nurses decided they had had enough–a strike was planned. 

Victoria got wind of the strike as a student at the School of Nursing Ibadan and spoke to her husband, and the demands of nurses were met. 

She helped to fight for the rights of nurses during her husband’s administration, and through her influence, nurses were able to get access to car loans and a special welfare package for nurses for staying by the patient’s side for 24 hours during their three shifts. She was the voice of nurses during his administration, and nurses’ welfare saw a lot of good changes in Nigeria–she was a trailblazer.

Harriet, Pratt, and Victoria are a few nurses who have made their mark in different paths, created a lane and did notable feats.

As the Future of The Profession, we should ride on their experiences and achieve more.

Join us for a special nurses’ week Instagram live session on 19th May, 2023.

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