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Remembering Betsi Cadwaladr

24 Mar 2023

We can’t let Women's History Month pass us by without remembering Wales’s own nursing heroine, the fiery and formidable Elizabeth ‘Betsi’ Cadwaladr.

Betsi Cadwaladr Pop Art Collage

Artwork by Nathan Wyburn, commissioned by RCN Wales

Betsi, one of 16 children, was born and christened near Bala in 1789. Her mother died when she was a small child and at a young age Betsi left home and went into domestic service. She later travelled the world and then trained as a nurse in London.

Betsi had developed great nursing skills through caring for her various employers and stood out from the other nurses because she was steady and sober in her duties. She also introduced service improvements through new ways of working. However, when asked to work a night shift she left!

After reading about the awful conditions in the Crimea, Betsi travelled to the battlefields to care for the wounded soldiers but once there had a run-in with Florence Nightingale, who refused to assign duties to Betsi, or even let her roll bandages. Regardless, Betsi continued to the frontline, and worked in abysmal conditions, suffering prejudice for being Welsh, and speaking out against unnecessarily complicated processes implemented by Florence Nightingale.

Eventually the war took its toll on Betsi’s own health, and she left the Crimea. She died in 1860 in London and was buried in a pauper’s grave.

In 2012, following a challenge from Professor Donna Mead OBE CstJ FRCN – who wanted to honour Betsi in her death for what she achieved during her life – RCN Wales and Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board campaigned to raise money for a proper memorial for her.

Betsi Cadwaladr Grave

Since 2006, RCN Wales has held biennial Betsi Cadwaladr lectures. In last year’s lecture, Professor Donna Mead gave a compelling account of Betsi’s life and pioneering principles.

Watch RCN Wales Betsi Cadwaladr Biennial Lecture 2022.

In 2020, to mark International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, Welsh artist Nathan Wyburn, was commissioned by RCN Wales to create a pop art college featuring Betsi Cadwaladr (above). The image of Betsi, which was made using photographs of RCN Wales Nurse of the Year finalists since the awards were launched in 2012, was inspired by a desire to honour one of the most influential people in Welsh history. The artwork is on display in RCN Wales’s Betsi Cadwaladr seminar room at Ty Maeth, Cardiff.

Page last updated - 22/08/2023