In pictures: Diversity in nursing

As an exhibition celebrating diversity in the nursing profession is hosted at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) in London, we look at some 20th-century images from the history of the workforce

Diversity in nursing

An exhibition at the Royal College of Nursing in Marylebone, London, aims to showcase the stories of nurses who may have been overlooked in the past, having faced challenges of racism, homophobia and other discrimination in their profession. Hidden in plain sight: Celebrating nursing diversity includes letters, photographs and personal items from RCN members, detailing their diverse experiences.

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Wendy Irwin, head of equality and diversity at the RCN, explained to History Extra: “This exhibition is an attempt to ensure that our archives and our memories of nursing are as representative as possible. There was a recognition that stories drawn from black and minority ethnic nurses, lesbian nurses, nurses from a south Asian background, deaf nurses, and many others remained hidden histories.

“There would have been numerous barriers facing many of these women, from racism to homophobia and as a result, there would have been opportunities that weren’t available to them. Our view was that the profession was poorer for those stories not being told.”

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The exhibition Hidden in plain sight: Celebrating nursing diversity is open to the public at the RCN Library and Heritage Centre until 10 March 2018.

Photograph of Uma Halder from the exhibition: Hidden in plain sight: Celebrating nursing diversity
Uma Halder (nee Dutta), 1953. RCN member Uma describes herself as belonging to “a very ancient family of Calcutta”. She left her home for London in 1952 and trained as nurse at Hammersmith Hospital. She later returned to Calcutta to train as a public health nurse at the All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, from 1960 to 1961. (Image credit: Royal College of Nursing)
Elizabeth Anionwu school photo from the exhibition: Hidden in plain sight: Celebrating nursing diversity
A school photo including Elizabeth Anionwu (then Furlong) at 12 years old, Wallasey Technical High School, March 1960. Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu was born in Birmingham of Irish and Nigerian heritage. Elizabeth says: “Until I was 18 and came down to London, I was always the only black child. I was the brown girl in the ring.” (Image credit: Professor Dame Elizabeth Anionwu)
A photograph of Uma Halder at Christmas dinner, from the exhibition exhibition Hidden in plain sight: Celebrating nursing diversity
Christmas dinner at Hammersmith Hospital, 1958. Uma Halder, pictured here wearing glasses, sits with colleagues for Christmas lunch. (Image credit: Royal College of Nursing)
Hermione Blackwood and Cathlin Du Sautoy with their two adopted children, 1926
Lady Hermione Blackwood and Cathlin du Sautoy, with adopted children Yvette (left) and Victor Rene (right), 1926. Hermione and Cathlin met at Guy’s Hospital. During their time together in France working with the Red Cross, they adopted Yvette and Victor, both French orphans. The family returned to London in 1922. (Image credit: Royal College of Nursing)
From the exhibition: Hidden in plain sight: Celebrating nursing diversity
The Unit at Reims, with Cathlin and Hermione (in the centre) and Victor, 1920. Victor went on to marry a woman called Dee French, who described how Yvette and Victor came to be adopted: “These poor little things were orphaned… and [Cathlin and Hermione] were so sorry for these children, so they took them in… Aunt Hermie and Aunt Cissie thought ‘why don’t we adopt them?’” (Image credit: Royal College of Nursing)
Image from the exhibition: Hidden in plain sight: Celebrating nursing diversity
Cathlin and Victor Réné, known as ‘Hiddy’. In one British Journal of Nursing article of 1920, ‘M.B.’ wrote: “Curiosity caused me to ask how Hiddy came by his unusual name, and I was promptly told ‘because he was SO hideous when he was a small baby.” (Image credit: Royal College of Nursing)
International School Students photographed outside the entrance to the Royal College of Nursing in 1957.
International School Students photographed outside the entrance to the Royal College of Nursing in 1957. (Image credit: Royal College of Nursing)
A group of nurses take part in a pay protest outside the Houses of Parliament in December 1986.
A group of nurses take part in a pay protest outside the Houses of Parliament in December 1986. (Image credit: Royal College of Nursing, P/18/2/56)
Two nurses on their graduation day in the 1950s.
Two nurses on their graduation day in the 1950s. (Image credit: Royal College of Nursing, P/18/2/33)
Nurses at South London Hospital in 1950
A group of pupil nurses who have just qualified as state enrolled nurses (SENs) at the South London Hospital in the 1950s. (Image credit: Royal College of Nursing, P/18/02/85/13)