Dame Ruth Nita Barrow
Public Health Nurse, Diplomat, and General-Governor of Barbados
Ruth Nita Barrow was born in Barbados to Reverend Reginald Grant Barrow and Ruth Alberta Barrow in 1916. Barrow grew up in a family of activist and politically active individuals. She attended St. Michael’s Girls’ School and later enrolled as a nursing student at Barbados General Hospital. she went on to complete midwifery training at Port of Spain General Hospital in Trinidad and Tobago. She went on to complete a fellowship at the University of Toronto in 1941. This fellowship included travel to Jamaica where she served as an assistant instructor at the West Indies School of Public Health(1934–50). During her time there she became President of the Nurses Association of Jamaica and was elected to the executive committee of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) World Council. She continued to specialize in nursing and attended graduate school at Columbia University in New York (1962–63)and University of Edinburgh, Scotland (1951–52).
Barrow expanded her influence throughout the West Indies as director of a research project in nursing which resulted in the Advanced Studies in Nursing at the University of the West Indies. Her international reach and influence easily recognized in the various leadership positions she held to advance the treatment of all people. In 1964, she served as Nursing Advisor for the Pan American Health Organization. She was World President of the YWCA (1975–83) and president of the International Council of Adult Education (1982–90). Most significantly, she was appointed by Queen Elizabeth II, Governor General of Barbados in 1990.
Barrows was the only woman to serve on the eight member Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group which worked to dismantle apartheid. During a visit to South Africa in 1986, she went into a restricted town by disguising herself in African garb and head-dress. while there she was able to have open conversation with the residents and their living conditions.
Barrow received various accolades acknowledging her contributions. These awards included the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) Women’s Award in 1987 and the Christiane Reimann Award from the International Council of Nurses. Barrows contributions and efforts to influence education, gender relations, and healthcare provide only a glimpse of her dedication to shine light on the Caribbean nations as a leading force. Her experiences as a nurse and public health advocate shaped many of her diplomatic involvements in international organizations like the World Health Organization, YWCA, and CARICOM. Barrow passed in her hometown of Barbados in 1995.
To learn more about inclusion in nursing and be part of the national discussion to address racism in nursing, check out and share the following resources:
Know Your History
- Nursing CLIO to engage with historians and scholars committed to deep work around historical accuracy in healthcare and nursing.
- American Association for the History of Nursing to attend monthly webinars on topics of nursing history, view the calendar here.
- NurseManifest to attend live zoom sessions with fellow nurses on nursing’s overdue reckoning on racism or to sign their pledge. Breaking Bias in Healthcare, an online course created by scientist Anu Gupta, to learn how bias is related to our brain’s neurobiology and can be mitigated with mindfulness.
- Revolutionary Love Learning Hub provides free tools for learners and educators to use love as fuel towards ourselves, our opponents, and to others so that we can embody a world where we see no strangers.
Support & Advocate
- National Black Nurses Association
- National Coalition for Ethnic Minority Nurse Association to stay engaged with topics relevant to nurses of color.
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