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African Women and the
British Health Service





Princess Tsehai Selassie, the youngest child of Emperor Haile Selassie, was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on October 13, 1919. At only 15, she gave an impassioned plea to the League of Nations on behalf of her besieged home nation, Ethiopia, as it was being invaded by Mussolini’s Fascist Italy. This garnered her international fame. She was determined to support her father and the Ethiopian people in any way she could.  An irreverent woman, Tsahai continued to speak on peace and use her status positively. She gave a speech for the Women’s Peace Crusade, and she was the only woman to speak at the Conference on African Peoples, Democracy and World Peace in 1939, held in London. As a sponsor in the creation of the Ethiopian Women’s Welfare Work Association (EWWWA), she worked to ensure the expansion and provision of health and welfare to Ethiopian people. As the Italians continued to besiege Ethiopia, the Selassie Royal Family fled and were exiled to Britain, settling in Bath in 1936. Driven to "be of use" upon her return to Ethiopia, Tsahai was set on gaining an education in nursing. She would eventually return to Ethiopia to open medical centres along with fellow health professionals to work in them.

Her medical training began in August 1936 when she was accepted to the Great Ormond Street Hospital (prev. Hospital for Sick Children, ab. GOSH) as a nurse probationer. Following three years of training and attaining high marks in her final certificate in December 1939, she had qualified as a state registered nurse for sick children. Footage showed the Princess smiling during her training on the ward, a figure treated with kindness by fellow nurses, which speaks to the status she held as an African woman at the time.

To complete her general nursing training Tsahai transferred to Guy's Hospital and worked for two years, but before completing her placement the Selassie family would return to Ethiopia. Not long after this, on August 17th 1942, she tragically passed away, dying of a haemorrhage during childbirth aged just 22, in Lekempti, Ethiopia. Her patients and colleagues at GOSH would remember her fondly, providing glowing testimonials. Following her death they led a memorial at the GOSH chapel. One matron reflected on her passion for nursing, '"Practically her last words to me were: One day I shall open a children’s hospital: you must come and see it."'.


  • Tanner, D. (2005). GOSH revealed: a Princess on the ward. Roundabout. Foreign Relations of the United States Diplomatic Papers, 1936, The Near East and Africa, Volume III. (1936). Retrieved 1 April 2019, from

  • LEAGUE OF NATION NOTES: A Note From Abyssinia. (1936). Advertiser And Times.

  • "The Emperor of Abyssinia arrives in England". (1936). British Pathe, 01:53:15:00 / 01:54:47:00. Retrieved from

  • Bowers, K. (2016). Imperial exile (Chapter 2). Brown Dog

  • Tanner, D. (2005).

  • Ethiopia History: Princess Tsehai as nurse 1941. (2020). Retrieved 1 April 2019, from

  • The New York Times. (1941). PRINCESS TSAHAI OF ETHIOPIA, .22; Daughter of Haile Selassie, Active in Hospital Work, Dies in Her Homeland MARRIED ONLY 4 MONTHS Shared Exile With Father and Studied Nursing: in London-Refused a Screen Offer, p. 19. Retrieved from

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