A Hidden History: African Women and the British Health Service in the 20th Century

Recruitment for the British health service from the colonies of the British Empire began in the period after the Second World War. However, nurses, doctors and other medical professionals trained in Britain before this, as higher education was not available in the colonies.

Despite their long history of work within the health service in Britain, the role of African women is rarely highlighted in discussions of the history of the NHS or of health work more generally. As current narratives on black women in the British health service tend to focus on 'Windrush generation' Caribbean contributions, this project will cover new ground and expand the understanding of this history.

This project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, and will be undertaken in partnership with Ghana Nurses Association, Nigerian Nurses Charitable Association and the Black Cultural Archives.

Our Project

Since being awarded Heritage Lottery Funding for African Women and the British Health Service in November 2018, YHP has been pulling together the strands of an un-investigated history. As well as conducting oral history interviews with women such as Dame Elizabeth Anionwu, we have also been building our knowledge through primary and secondary source research, and expanding our skill set through creative workshops.

So far, team members have been conducting research at the National Archives, the Royal College of Nursing, the Black Cultural Archives, the British Library, the BFI Archives and the British Newspaper Archives. 


The outputs of the project will be an eBook, a documentary film, a commemorative mural at Charing Cross Hospital and an online exhibition. As well as this, we will be producing a podcast series to capture this history in the making.

We envision these outputs will inspire more research to be done in this historical field, and that more young people of African and Caribbean descent will be encouraged to undertake history as an academic endeavour, within the community and as a personal hobby.

Get Involved

We are actively looking to interview more African women who have worked in the British health service in any capacity between 1930 and 2000. If you would like to be interviewed, or know anyone of that description, please do get in touch! 

To stay up-to-date with YHP’s activities and the progress of the project, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. For more information and to find out how you can get involved, email us at younghistoriansproject@gmail.com.