Unsung Nigerian princess nurse inspires today’s nurses

Tuesday 8 November 2022

A black and white photograph of Princess Omo-Oba Adenrele Ademola looking out the door of a train. She wears a hat and fur coat.

Princess Omo-Oba Adenrele Ademola © IWM D 16165

A little known Nigerian princess, whose 30-year British nursing career included joining Guy’s Hospital in the 1930s, is finally gaining recognition and inspiring a new generation of nurses.

Before the NHS was founded in 1948, many people from Africa, India and the Caribbean trained as nurses in British hospitals. In 1935, Princess Omo-Oba Adenrele Ademola came to Britain at the age of 22 and is recorded as a midwife. She was the daughter of the Alake of Abeokuta, a significant king in southern Nigeria.

From 1939, Princess Ademola is included in the list of nurses on St Saviour’s ward at Guy’s Hospital. She trained there, passed her nursing exams and officially became a registered nurse in 1941.

Princess Ademola was popular among patients, who affectionately called her 'fairy’. When describing her experience at Guy’s Hospital to journalists, she said: “Everyone was very kind to me.”

After training as a nurse at Guy’s Hospital, Princess Ademola gained Central Midwives Board qualifications. She then cared for patients at other London hospitals during World War II.

In the mid-1940s, the Colonial Film Unit made a film about Princess Ademola’s life and experience as a nurse. This silent documentary film called ‘Nurse Ademola’ showed ‘an African nurse at various phases of training at one of the great London hospitals’. It is thought to have inspired many others in West Africa to train as a nurse abroad. Sadly, the film is now lost.

According to the National Archives, this missing film symbolises ‘the wider historical absence of African women’.

In spite of her royal status and contribution to British nursing, the historical records about Princess Ademola are not detailed or complete. Her name is written in five different ways in the National Archives and this has caused confusion.

The last record of Princess Ademola is in 1949 when she was working as a nurse in South Kensington. Nothing is known about her life after that. Although we do not have a full picture of Princess Ademola’s life, Guy’s and St Thomas’ is proud of her achievements.

Jill Eastmond, a deputy dental matron at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Princess Ademola was obviously a strong-minded person. I think any Black woman who came to England at that time, and was successful, should be recognised and applauded. They showed such bravery. She was beautiful, she was a royal, so could perhaps have been anything she wanted to be, but she chose to be a nurse."

Jill said: I want to follow in her footsteps, to stand on the shoulders of these ancestors, and to celebrate them every day. This drives me to be the best I can be in my profession. They have had a positive impact on the way I conduct myself inside and outside of work.

“By sharing her story, I hope young Black people will think seriously about a career in healthcare — there are lots of different careers available. We need healthcare workers who are representative of the people in Lambeth and Southwark. This is good for our patients.”

Avey Bhatia, Chief Nurse at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Nurses from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds have contributed richly to our healthcare system for generations. It is important that we honour the legacy of nurses from abroad.

“Princess Ademola is an historical role model for anyone entering the nursing profession and those who have committed their working lives to caring for others.”

Last updated: November 2022

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