When talking about influential women we tend to think of the “celebrity” women who were overwhelmingly white. However, there have been many BAME women who have also been influential. One example is Betty Campbell from Cardiff.
Betty Campbell first came to my attention in 2017 when she sadly passed away. Betty was born in 1934, in Butetown; one of the poorest areas of Cardiff. Betty was an incredible woman although very few know about her. She was the first black head-teacher in Wales and was a champion of Wales’ multicultural heritage throughout her life. Betty was such an important figure in Wales that she was invited to meet Nelson Mandela during his only visit to Wales in 1998!
Betty was brought up in Tiger Bay in Cardiff, to a black working-class family. Sadly her father was killed during the Second World War, and like many other families at the time, her mother struggled financially as a result. Betty won a scholarship to study at Lady Margaret High School for Girls in Cardiff where she excelled alongside mainly middle-class white girls.
Betty’s story is a true inspiration and shows that no matter the society you’re brought up in, no matter how many obstacles you face, there is always hope that you can achieve what you want to! The society Betty grew up in was still very limited to women regardless of race and remained this way for a significant portion of Betty’s life. When Betty told her head-teacher that she wanted to go into teaching she was told that there would be problems too great to overcome – how wrong they were!
When she was 17, Betty became pregnant and had to postpone her studies. Overcoming various setbacks and racism, Betty pursued her goal of becoming a teacher in 1960 when she was 1 of 6 female students that attended Cardiff Teacher Training College which was admitting women for the first time. She qualified as a teacher while having a young family and went on to be a teacher in Butetown, before making history when she became the first black head-teacher in Wales in the 1970s. Betty put black culture on the curriculum of her school in Cardiff which led to the reputation and influence of her school growing rapidly, eventually becoming a template for multicultural education. For Betty, it was important that the children at her school learned about the positive contributions of people of colour to British society (something I think should be taught a lot more in schools today) as well as other aspects of black history like slavery and the effects it had.
She also helped to create Black History Month, was a member of the Home Office’s race advisory committee and a member of the Commission for Racial Equality, and a councilor for Butetown where her influence on public life was transformed and flourished. Betty was awarded an MBE in 2003 for services to education and community life.
Betty was committed to, and spent her life, supporting the heritage and importance of Butetown’s multiculturalism. In recognition of Betty’s contributions and incredible life, a statue is being dedicated to her. The statue will now be unveiled in 2021. I think it’s fair to say that nobody has fought as hard as Betty Campbell to celebrate the diversity of Wales!