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The nurse who broke down KEMH’s colour barrier

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Barbara Wade became the first Black nurse to work full time at King Edward VII Memorial Hospital

Barbara Wade, or “Lovey” as everyone called her, was the first Black registered nurse employed full time by King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. The year, 1958, was a memorable one. Other Black nurses had worked at the hospital before her, but they operated as private nurses employed by patients and were not able to eat in the cafeteria with the White nurses. They brought their meals from home and ate in the changing room.

In 1953, the Colonial Parliament appointed an interracial committee to address the disparity in nursing issues. It was not until 1958 that KEMH acquiesced, although not without a struggle.

Barbara attended the Purvis School and The Berkeley Institute before travelling to England for nurses training. She entered the Botley’s Park Hospital in Surrey before transferring to the Lambeth School of Nursing, where she completed her training. When she returned to Bermuda, she applied to work at KEMH but her application was denied on the grounds that she had no midwifery qualifications. Lovey had no desire to become a midwife and, therefore, had not taken the course.

When Barbara’s mother, Gladys Allen Davis, heard of her daughter’s rejection and the reason for it, she was furious. She knew of a White nurse who had similar qualifications, but had been accepted. Not only had she been accepted but was being sent to Canada to complete an obstetrics course. Mrs Allen presented herself to the matron of KEMH and demanded an explanation. By the time she emerged from that office, Barbara Helen Lavinia Allen was also being sent to Canada.

On the flight from Bermuda to Canada, Barbara sat beside a young White woman who was surprised to know that she, too, was being sponsored by KEMH to do obstetrical training. Diana Simons and Barbara would become lifelong friends.

In 1958, KEMH, still grappling with the integration of its nursing staff, built “Montrose” on Berry Hill Road to accommodate the Coloured nurses. There was a separate accommodation built for White nurses. Barbara lived for a period at “Montrose”, which was later repurposed, as few Coloured nurses went there to live.

Interestingly enough, upon her return to work at KEMH, Barbara was placed on a male medical ward and never moved to the maternity department. She remained there until about 1960 when she married Austin Wade and raised three children.

Later, Barbara accepted the position of a Public Health Nurse within the health department. She remained there for 15 years working as the School Nurse for The Central School as well as the Harrington Sound School. In 1971, she was appointed supervisor of the purpose-built Government Daycare Centre on Happy Valley Road, where she remained until her retirement 20 years later.

Barbara was one of the founding members of the Bermuda Registered Nurses’ Association, and sat on the executive committee. She also served as the regional director of the Caribbean Nurses’ Organisation as far back as 1970. In 1985, her nursing colleagues named her Nurse of the Year.

After her retirement from government, Barbara opened the Rainbow Corner Childcare Centre in Bailey’s Bay and became a founding member of the Bermuda Association for the Education of Young Children. She became involved in the Red Cross Society and was elected an executive member of the Bermuda Business and Professional Women’s Association.

Lovey had boundless energy and used it productively. She was a devoted member of St Paul AME Church, sang in the senior choir; assisted in the organisation of the St Paul AME Church’s childcare centre and for many years served as its chair and treasurer.

She was involved in the Hands of Faith Deaf Ministry, the Breast Cancer Support Group and the Smith’s Parish Council. She was also a member of The Dawn Swimmers, a group that took to the water almost every morning.

Despite all of these activities, she was very involved with her children’s careers and when she became a grandmother, she delighted in every aspect of her grandchildren’s lives.

When interviewed by author J. Randolph Williams in the early 1990s, Barbara said, “a good nurse has to be kind, compassionate, understanding, a good listener and be able to empathise with the patient”.

In October 2006, Barbara Helen Lavinia “Lovey” Wade, a groundbreaking Bermudian nurse, died on her 70th birthday.

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, writer and historian

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons is a retired nurse, writer and historian


CARE by J. Randolf Williams (1994)

Black History Month Calendar (2009)

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Published May 22, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated May 22, 2023 at 7:36 am)

The nurse who broke down KEMH’s colour barrier

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