Bath, Royal United Hospital
Princess Tsehai was born in Addis Ababa to Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia. During Fascist Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, the Royal Family fled to Bath, England and ruled in exile at Fairfield House. Princess Tsehai pursued her passion in healthcare and acquired training to bring back to Ethiopia in hopes it would benefit her people. She completed her training at Great Ormond Street Hospital, and later Guy’s Hospital, becoming a state registered children's nurse. Once the Royal Family were able to return to Ethiopia, she married Lieutenant-General (later Brigadier-General) Lij Abiye Abebe, and moved with him to Welega Province when he was appointed governor there. Tragically, the Princess died following complications during childbirth in 1942. Emperor Haile Selassie founded the Princess Tsehai Memorial Hospital in her memory, which also served as a nursing school until the Ethiopian Revolution in 1974.
Bijou Bidwell was born on the 29th of March 1927 in Freetown. Growing up, she was taught at St. Mary’s Anglican Primary School and later Methodist Girls High School, where she became school spokesperson. Then known as Bijou Peters, she studied at Bristol Royal Infirmary and Kings College Hospital to pursue a career in nursing, soon becoming a State Registered Nurse (SRN) and later a State Certified Midwife (SCM) from 1947. ‘Aunty Bijou’ as she soon became known, would prove a dedicated and talented nurse, rising to the level of Nursing Sister at the Royal Victoria Hospital (today the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital) in 1955, before marrying Dr Ernest Bidwell in 1956. The Bidwells had two daughters, Oremie and Alaphia. Aside from nursing, Aunty Bijou had a love of gardening and her dogs, and was an avid writer. She wrote for a range of Gambian newspapers such as Daily Observer, where she used her voice to speak for the voiceless, particularly on issues of gendered violence and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). Even as she grew older, her passion for fighting injustice and standing up for the marginalised did not waver. Her legacy lives on through the foundations she laid for future activists who work to end practices such as FGM to this day.
Hannah Jawara (nee Mahoney) was born in Gambia in 1924. She was the daughter of Sir John Mahoney, the first speaker of the Gambian Legislative Council. From 1942 to 1946 she worked as a nursing assistant at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Banjul, Gambia. The following year, she travelled to England to study nursing at the Bristol Royal Infirmary qualifying as a State Registered Nurse (SRN) in 1950.
Upon her return, she was appointed superintendent of the Basse Health Centre. In 1955 she married Gambia’s future prime minister Dawda Jawara. But Hannah had her own political ambitions and in 1960, she became the first woman to stand for election to the House of Representatives, where she placed third. Hannah was also an activist for women's rights. She co-founded the Gambia Women's Federation which promoted education for girls. After separating from her husband, she turned to literature publishing the feminist play Rebellion under the pseudonym Ramatoulie Kinteh. Her works focused on Gambian women and culture. She died in London in 1981.
Olugbemisola (Olu) Kolade, was born in Britain and moved to Nigeria at the age of six. She has spent the majority of her life thus far in Nigeria and was educated there. After graduating with a degree in Computer Science she worked in software consultancy for a number of years. She also married and had two children while living in Nigeria. In 2015, at the age of 35, she moved back to the United Kingdom - a part of her had always wanted to return. Upon her arrival in the UK she began working at the Royal United Hospital, Bath as Project Support Officer, assisting on projects. She has continued to progress as a member of the administrative and clerical staff, and currently holds the role of Transformation Support Officer. She aspires to be a Project Manager in her own right.
Princess Tsehai Selassie
Bijou Bidwell a.k.a. ‘Aunty Bijou’
Hannah Jawara (nee Mahoney)
About the mural
The mural features four African women who have worked within Britain’s healthcare system, and have ties to the South West of England. Princess Tsehai Selassie was the daughter of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia and during their exile in Bath during the 1930s, she trained to become a registered children’s nurse. Bijou Bidwell of Gambia, was a registered nurse and state certified midwife, who also campaigned against Female Genital Mutilation. Hannah Jawara, nee Mahoney, also of Gambia, was also a state registered nurse and a feminist playwright. Providing a link between past and present in this mural, Nigeria-raised Olugbemisola Kolade currently works at the Royal United Hospital, Bath as a Transformation Support Officer.
We chose to portray both 20th century and contemporary women in this mural, to highlight the long historical presence of African women who have worked within Britain’s Healthcare Service. The mural was unveiled on Wednesday 17th November and we hope it will highlight these women and the efforts of the Young Historians Project in undertaking this project. We encourage you to visit the mural at Royal United Hospital Bath, and take in this beautiful art piece and important history in person.
About the artist
Heritage Interpreter and Bristol based artist, Michele Curtis painted this mural with assistance from consultant artist Nadia Lloyd. Michele is the artist and architect behind the Seven Saints of St. Paul’s creative and digital place making project, and the Iconic Black Britons initiative developed to celebrate Black British history through art. You can follow Michele on Instagram to keep up to date with her projects.
"It's been an absolute honour to work with the Young Historians Project to create this mural and help their vision materialise. I champion this project and I'm very excited to be a part of its evolution." - Michele Curtis
Be sure to read about the Mural unveiling written by Young Historian Lamesha.
Where to see it: Royal United Hospital Bath