On this day in 1865, Cavell was born in Swardenton, a village near Norwich. Caring for her aged father during a serious illness inspired her to become a nurse at age 30, and she began her training with Matron Eva Lückes, a friend of Florence Nightingale, at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel. She went on to work at hospitals in Shoreditch, Kings Cross, and Manchester before being invited to Brussels to lead a new training hospital for nurses. Considered a pioneer of modern nursing in Belgium, she founded the medical journal l’infirmière in 1910.
Visiting family when the war broke out, she returned to Brussels straightaway, where she would treat all casualties of war regardless of their nationality. “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved,” she stated.
Besides her work as a nurse, Cavell became involved with an underground group that was sheltering French and British soldiers and helping them escape from occupied Belgium. In August 1915, after helping some 200 men, Cavell was arrested and charged with treason. She confessed to the military court and, despite widespread appeals for mercy, was executed on October 12, 1915.
In 1917, the Nation’s Fund for Nurses was launched in her honor to raise funds to assist those who “sought the health of others at the expense of her own.” The fund was later renamed the Cavell Nurses’ Trust.
Here’s to Edith Cavell, whose legacy of heroism and compassion continues on.