Pioneering hospital matron honoured with NHS blue plaque tribute
Daphne Steele, the first person of African Heritage to hold the post of Head Matron of an NHS hospital, has been honoured with a blue plaque tribute at the site of former St James Hospital in Balham, where she trained.
In 1964 Daphne became Head Matron at St. Winifred’s Hospital in Ilkley. Her achievement was all the more remarkable, coming 16 years after the foundation of the NHS, and the arrival of the Windrush.
Over a hundred people attended the unveiling ceremony on Tuesday 16 October which was organised by Nubian Jak Community Trust in partnership with the Association of Guyanese Nurses and Allied Professional, and housing association L&Q.
Born in 1929, in the Essequibo region of Guyana, Daphne was the eldest of nine children. From an early age she wanted to pursue a career in the medical profession, inspired by her father who worked as a qualified pharmacist.
In 1945, aged 16, Daphne started training as a nurse and midwife at the then public hospital in Georgetown, before immigrating to the UK in 1951 to start a fast-track training programme at St. James’ Hospital in Balham, South London.
Her career took her to the United States in 1955 where she worked as a nurse for 5 years, before returning back to working in the NHS, first in Oxfordshire and then Manchester, where she became a Deputy Matron of a nursing home (also considered to be a first at that time).
Rosena Allin-Khan MP for Tooting said: 'Daphne's remarkable career and her resolute commitment to the National Health Service should act as an inspiration to us all. It's fantastic that you are recognising her achievement today - it is more important than ever that we recognise the contribution to the NHS from people right across the Globe. I know that the people of Balham would offer her the same warm welcome and opportunity to excel today.'
Actress Carmen Munroe (younger sister of Daphne Steele) said: “Daphne, A woman of courage with a heart of gold. Her family and friends recognised her humanity and divinity. She attracted and radiated a positive outlook, which is why she made such extraordinary strides in spite of the social constraints of the time.”
High Commissioner for Guyana His Excellency Frederick Hamley Case said: “The Guyana High Commission welcomes the recognition of Ms. Daphne Steel whose efforts in the British Health Care System redounded not only to the benefit of her immediate community but serves also as inspiration to fellow Guyanese.”
Dr Jak Beula, CEO of the Nubian Jak Community Trust, said: “Daphne Steele was decades ahead of her time. As a nursing pioneer, it is right and befitting that she is memorialized with a Blue Plaque, and given the national recognition she deserves as part of the 70th anniversary celebrations commemorating the birth of NHS.”
Nola Ishmael, Former Deputy Director of Nursing at the Department of Health, said: “Daphne led with dignity and determination. She helped to shape aspirations for BME nurses across the profession who sought to follow in her footsteps.”
Ms Thelma Lewis MBE, President of AGNAP said: “Daphne knew only love ... love for the profession in which she spent her entire life and to which she gave so much. She was a Vice President of AGNAP and we are all so proud of her. On becoming Britain's first Black Matron she set new goals for her fellow Windrush nurses and those who followed. AGNAP is indeed both pleased and honoured to be a partner in this lasting memorial to a great woman.”
David Montague, Chief Executive of L&Q said: “We are honoured to be part this celebration and to be able to commemorate the life and contribution of Daphne Steele on the site of the old hospital. As a charitable Housing Association, everything we do starts with social purpose and we aim to help those in our communities to thrive; Daphne is a true inspiration as someone who not only strived to help others but achieved a significant milestone for our country as the first Matron of African Heritage.”