Yaa Asantewaa – Defender of the Golden Stool

This is the story of a woman who defended her country against the British, refusing to stand down. Called “Africa’s Joan of Arc” by Western scholars, she commanded the entirety of the Ashanti forces in their final war against the colonialists. This is the story of Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa.

First, let me take you to the place and time where all of this happened: the Ashanti Kingdom in what is now Ghana. Unifying the individual village-states into a confederacy in 1701, its first king laid the foundation for what became one of the most sophisticated kingdoms in Africa. And of course there was some mythology behind it too. It was told that the Golden Stool, the symbol of the Ashanti throne, fell from the sky into the King’s lap, blessing his reign. Thus the Golden Stool became much more than just a throne – it became a symbol of the undying Ashanti spirit.

And now for the story of the woman who defended it. And it’s not just a myth!

Around 1840, Yaa Asantewaa was born as the oldest of the two royal children in the outskirts of Kumasi, the Ashanti capital, in a town that used to be called Edweso but today is named Ejisu. She grew to become a reputed farmer and cultivated crops on her own land until at one point she married a man from the capital. Following tradition she was but the first wife in a polygamous marriage, giving birth to one daughter. Meanwhile her brother ascended to the throne sometime in the 1880s, making her Queen Mother. You see, that title was inherited just as the royal ones were – and it held just as much influence. During his reign, Yaa witnessed the Ashanti confederacy go through crisis after crisis, war after war, and saw its stability waning. In the 1870s Kumasi was burned and ransacked, a tax was imposed by the British and a civil war was raging. And in the middle of all that her brother died. Making use of her position, Yaa nominated her grandson for the vacant position of chief and he was crowned in 1888.

He wasn’t able to enjoy his position for too long as in 1896 he was sent into exile to the Seychelles and the British demanded the utter surrender of his kingdom. Plus the Golden Stool would be nice. Four years they discussed and negotiated, hoping to a least get their king back for it. And just as the Ashanti chiefs were about to give in, Yaa’s thread of patience finally snapped. Refusing to pay her share of the taxes she gave a rallying speech about pride and courage and bravery. Still the chiefs were hesitant but she won them over quickly by announcing that, if the men are to scared to fight, the women will. And so in March 1900 a rebellion began.

Yaa became the first woman to lead and command the Ashanti forces and her leadership was so a skillful that the following war bears her name. Her first move was to turn her hometown into their base. With many of the men still hesitant to join the army, scared of the British military, she once again turned to the women. After convincing them to refuse to have sex with their husbands unless they fought for their country, most men were quick to join the war effort. For further encouragement, the women were to circle the city everyday, performing victory rituals and thus keeping morality high. For the first time in the Anglo-Ashanti wars, walls and palisades were built around cities and villages, successfully keeping the enemy at bay for the time being. She regained control of the capital by besieging the British fort within it, completely incapacitating its occupants and their allies on the outside. She proceeded to secure the city, deploying generals to monitor and protect strategic points. Yaa also employed psychological warfare against her adversaries, using the traditional talking drums to strike fear in their hearts whenever they heard the drums sing of battles won by the Ashanti.

In the end however the brave warriors were driven back by the British. Village by village, their strongholds were captured and finally Yaa herself was forced to surrender and followed her brother into exile to the Seychelles, accompanied by her generals. Their battle had lasted half a year. Her exile was set to last for 25 years, but Yaa would not see her home again. She died 21 years later.

The British however never got hold of the Golden Stool. It was hidden deep in the forests and only recovered by accident, when a group of labourers happened upon it in 1920. By then, even though they were technically annexed into the British Empire, the Ashanti still basically governed themselves and were not required to report to colonial authorities. And finally in 1957, their indepencence became official – the first African nation to achieve this. So despite her defeat in the end, Yaa Asantewaa’s resilience paved the way for her people’s de facto independence and succeeded in keeping the Golden Stool out of British hands.

image credits:

1: Asante. Stool (Dwa) – Museum Expedition 1922, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund – Brooklyn Museum (22.1695)
2: undated portrait of Yaa Asantewaa – Link
3: Yaa Asantewaa Museum – User Noahalorwu in Wikimedia Commons – Link

The Yaa Asantewaa Museum fell victim to a fire in 2004 and unfortunately has not been restored since. – Link

Ida Ferenczy – The Empress’ Best Friend

Born to a family of lower nobility, the most that was expected of her was to marry into a good family. Ida Ferenczy disappointed her parents on that front – but isn’t it much better to be the best friend of an Empress?

The Ferenczys of Kecskemét in the Hungarian plains already had three children when Ida was born in 1839, and they would go on to have two more. Like her sisters, she was sent to school to become a proper lady, learning how to read and write as well as the basics of the German language. But Ida longed for knowledge, so she devoured all the books she could find, teaching herself where her teachers failed her. She even got the attention of a professional writer, Ida Miticzky, and so she was trained in the art of reading aloud when she was around twenty years old.

It was around that time that Empress Elisabeth of Austria, who was about the same age as her, began to learn the Hungarian language and decided to surround herself with Hungarian ladies. She had always been fond of the country and having been crowned its Queen, her love only grew. Feeling trapped in the strict conventions of Austrian court, she fled to Gödöllő Palace in Budapest as often as possible, enjoying the looser etiquette and winning the favor of the people. Sisi, as she was nicknamed, soon realized she would much prefer to be surrounded by Hungarian ladies all the time and promptly she was given a list from which to choose. The last name on this list was that of Isa Ferenczy. This was highly peculiar, you see, as she was not technically qualified for her job, her status as rural nobility not acceptable at the Imperial Court. On top of this minor scandal, Ida’s name had been added to the list in a different handwriting than the others. And of all the names, Empress Elisabeth picked hers! She sent for Ida’s picture and for the real girl shortly after. Of course the picture on the left was painted much later, but I think it captures her kind heart very well.

The two women met in 1864 and connected immediately. Ida had known of the Empress’ beauty, but her wit and charms impressed her even more. Elisabeth was taken by Ida’s honesty and her open mind, authenticity being a scarce trait in higher nobility. And even though she could never become a true lady of the court due to her high-but-not-high-enough birth, Elisabeth insisted she stayed, making her her official reader.  

Soon a close friendship formed between the two women, Ida was allowed in her chambers at all times and became the only one Elisabeth addressed by first name. Even though she was never fully accepted and even avoided at court due to her nationality, Ida was happy. Never once did she want to leave, even if that meant to never marry, loving her Empress with all her heart. So loyal was she that she even partook in royal mischief. On a masked ball for example she helped Sisi flirting with a guest under the guise of anonymity. Even though the gentleman in question did recognize her, Ida made sure Elisabeth never found out about it, making it possible for her to enjoy a few careless moments in the middle of strict court etiquette.

Although Ida never took advantage of her position, she did help a lot with Hungarian-Austrian relations, facilitating many important contacts, which earned her the Emperor’s respect as well. It was thanks to her that Sisi met Count Gyula Andrássy, a pardoned Hungarian revolutionary, who would become a lifelong friend and confidante. Frequent trips to Ida’s home country, on many of which Andrássy accompanied them as well, soon became lengthy trips all over Europe.

The Empress loved to travel and Ida was by her side. They went to see the ancient ruins of Troja and Ida was there when Sisi got a little anchor tattooed on her shoulder in Greece. Greece was the “home of her soul,” as Elisabeth called it, and they spent a lot of time on Corfu, her favourite place in the world. She even built a palace there, the Achilleion, where she spent a lot of time – Ida always there with her. Having taught Sisi in Hungarian language and culture for so many years, she now learned new things again herself! Elisabeth was just as hungry for knowledge as she was and hired local teachers and guides wherever she went.

The long journeys, which often included long walks on foot through rough terrain eventually had their toll on the Empress’ entourage however and in 1890 Marie Festetics, who had been in Elisabeth’s service for not quite as long as Ida but became a close friend to both women quickly, broke her ankle. And Ida too began to feel too old for the strenuous travels without much rest inbetween. So with a heavy heart both, Ida and Marie were deployed to in-house duties. But not before Ida was given the Order of the Starry Cross for her loyal service. The Imperial Court, especially the empress dowager, was not too happy about it, but Elisabeth really pressed for it. So as not to travel all by herself, she hired two young Hungarian noblewomen for company but never got just as close with them. And whenever she was at the Imperial Palace in Vienna, she spent time with Ida and Marie. In turn Ida befriended Sisi’s fourth and favourite child, daughter Marie Valerie, who was called “the Hungarian child” for her place of birth.

Eight happy years they lived like that, until Elisabeth’s tragic death in 1898. Her murder hit Ida hard, having spent almost forty years at her side – “I have lost everything,” she exclaimed upon hearing the news. In the last picture ever taken of the Empress, Ida is standing next to her.

Marie Valerie asked Ida to help her with bringing her mother’s estate in order and entrusted her with a majority of Sisi’s literary remains. And Ida never disappointed that trust, keeping the inheritance until her own death. Death however should not come soon. First she and the other Hungarian ladies were forced to move out ot the palace. Fortunately Marie Festetics, who had always been a woman of foresight, had been prepared for an event like this ever since she broke her foot. She had rented an apartment in Vienna already and managed to have Ida move in right next door. Giving each other comfort, both women worked through the death differently. Marie began to travel again (albeit not as recklessly as before), visiting the places she had seen with Elisabeth, while Ida went to Budapest to open a museum dedicated to her. It survived until World War II but was unfortunately destroyed then.

Ida survived her beloved Empress for thirty “long years,” as she said herself. She also lived through the deaths of Maria Fesetics, her long-time friend and companion, and Marie Valerie, the Hungarian child, only one year apart. Finally in 1928 she found rest as well, dying at age 89. Her body was taken back to Kecskemét, where she had been born all those years, a lifetime, ago and interred in the family tomb.

image credits:

1: Ida Ferenczy de Vecseszék […] in traditional Hungarian court gown (before 1896) – Link (Wikimedia Commons)
2: Ida Ferenczy (3rd from the right) next to Empress Elisabeth on a hike – Link (Wikimedia Commons)
3: Empress Elisabeth of Austria and Ida Ferenczy. Purports to be the last photo of the empress, taken the day before her death. – Link

Granny Lum Loy – Surviving Three Cyclones and a War

This is the story of a survivor. Adopted and sent to a faraway land, she made it her home while keeping her cultural heritage alive. She built up several businesses and survived many a catastrophe, all while founding her own family. I present to you: Lee Toy Kim, later known as Granny Lum Loy.

Nothing is known of her early childhood, besides that she was born around 1884 in Shekki, southern China. Together with another girl named Lee Leung See, she was adopted by Fong Sui Wing, an entrepreneur who soon set sails to Australia with his new daughters in tow. They arrived in Darwin, Northern Territory, in 1898. The destruction a cyclone had wreaked the year before was still evident, but the small family did not lose courage and went to work. Soon their first grocery and general store was founded in the heart of Darwin’s Chinatown. Three more stores in the area would follow. Although she had never had a formal education and only spoke the Sze Yap dialect of her people, Lee Toy was able to work in her family’s Darwin store, having taught herself to read and write Cantonese. There she forged connections to the locals, slowly learning the language of her new country.

In 1901, when she was around 17, she met mining engineer Lum Loy and fell in love. In no time they were married and moved south to Pine Creek. Five years later their only child was born, a daughter they named Lizzie Yook Lin. After her husband died in 1918, widow Lum Loy moved her small family back to Darwin where she hoped for a better education for her daughter. And Lizzie did not disappoint her, working herself to the top of the class. Being a single mum wasn’t easy though, but she had a plan. She rented ten acres of land and single-handedly turned it into a mango orchard sporting about 200 trees she had all planted herself. In time her plantation grew into a fruit enterprise, exporting mangoes to the western part of the country.

In 1923 her daughter married prominent Chinese businessman Chin Loong Tang and they went on to add two more stores to the family business and nine children to the family itself. This would be the foundation of one of the largest Chinese families in Darwin, making her the matriarch. Now known as Granny Lum Loy, she continued her fruit export business for over ten more years until she decided to sell her orchard in 1935. The growing family returned to their original home in Darwin, where Chin Loong went off to attend business in Hong Kong, leaving the family café in the hands his wife and her mother. When her son-in-law returned, Granny Lum Loy found herself a little bored and purchased another block of land, this time turning it into a chicken farm. Every day she went from her house in the city to the outskirts of town, tending to her chickens and collecting the eggs, which she then sold to a local café. This was also around the time the second cyclone happened.

Then the war came. After the Pearl Harbor incident, her family evacuated Darwin and fled. Granny Lum Loy refused to leave. While she was on her daily morning visit to the Chinese temple however, a bomb hit Darwin in February 1942. Even though she still did not want to leave her home again, she saw that it was the most sensible thing to do. She reunited with her family and together they fled further south. Arriving in Alice Springs, Adelaide, they made a temporary home there, using their talents to set up a vegetable and fruit shop. After two years, her family decided to move to Sydney and Granny Lum Loy decided to go with them. It should not be a pleasant stay. Shortly after giving birth to her ninth child, Lizzie Yook Lin complained about pain in her kidneys and died in August 1945.

Only one month later the war ended and the family returned to Darwin. Granny Lum Loy was shocked to find her hometown in ruins, the land firmly placed in the government’s hands and Chinatown about to be demolished. The landowners were compensated for their lost land, although not exactly fairly. But our clever Granny managed to save her family’s property – albeit at the cost of her chicken farm. This was to be the last time she moved places in the remainder of her long life. Her grandson built her a small house and she proceeded to establish a wonderful garden on her property, growing many tropical fruits – yes, mangoes too. The third cyclone in her life should come in 1974. In the morning after the storm when people carefully began to move outside and oversee the damage, a figure could be spotted in the remains of her garden. It was Granny Lum Loy, 91 years old at the time, who was already beginning to work on its restauration.

She became a prominent figure in Darwin’s social landscape, the Chinese gardener lady in her traditional clothes. So prominent indeed, that in 1979 painter Geoff la Gersche created a big portrait of her. She was overwhelmed. After all, in the China of her memory only emperors had their portraits painted! Her death one year later, when she was about 96 years old was mourned by many. Marking the end of an era, her funeral was the largest one the town had seen and would see for many years.

image credits:

1: National Museum Australia: Harvest of Endurance Scroll (Collection interactive) – Entrepreneurs
2: The Canberra Times  Sa, 1 July 1989: “The women from the north: larger than life but unknown” – Link (archived article)
3: “Mrs Lum Loy” © Northern Territory Library (PH0044/0058)

Dada Masiti – Expanding Her Traditional Duties

Thinking about Somalia, literature might not be the first thing that comes to mind, but unbeknownst to many, Somalia is a country of bards and poets. This is the story of one of them.

Mana Sitti Habib Jamaladdin was born around 1810 in the city of Brava on the southern coast of Somalia to a family that took pride in the fact that they were part of the Ashraf clan, direct descendants of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. As the Somali people follow an oral tradition of storytelling, there are a lot of uncertainties regarding her life. Though it is confirmed that she was abducted as a child and taken to Zanzibar where she lived in slavery, opinions differ on how exactly this happened. 

One source says, she was kidnapped and sold, while another states that the kidnapping was voluntary so she could marry a suitor her family had turned down. They were said to have married on the Kenyan island of Pate, but soon sweet young love turned bitter and she ended up enclosed in her home, a mere maid. Mana herself seems to have hinted on the latter version to be true, writing in one of her poems that she was “led astray by worldly lures.” But however things went down, they ended the same way: in slavery. After ten years she was finally found: one of her cousins was in town, recognized her and brought her home.

Having grown into an intelligent young woman (albeit slightly remorseful regarding her “worldly adventure”), she immersed herself in religious studies, earning a reputation as a Muslim scholar. Contrary to other religious texts and the oral tradition of the Somali people, Mana began to write poems in her own language and dialect, Chimbalazi or Bravanese. And they were well-received. Showing eloquence and a deep understanding of religious scripture, they found their way into mosques and Quranic schools all over the region and eventually became a staple piece of literature in and around Brava. And not only that, her work helped to spread and revive the Sufi order of the Qadriyya in Somalia, finding a new purpose as prayers! Her poems were memorized and recited and even the Sheikh wanted his eulogy written by the famous poetess. Eventually she was even revered as a Muslim saint.

She went on to be more than one hundred years old in which she never stopped writing. As she grew older, she was regarded a treasure of the town and known by everyone as Dada Masiti (Grandmother Masiti). Until her death in the summer of 1919 she continued to live in her little house in her hometown and was buried there as well. After spending the earlier part of her life away from home, it seems she didn’t even want to leave it in death.

Still remembered fondly throughout Somalia, each year a pilgrimage to her house can be observed in the streets of Brava. It were (and still are) mainly the women who are keeping the poems of Dada Masiti memorized, looking up to her. You see, she never married and lived a self-determined life, all while still contributing to society and fulfilling her traditional duties. In Brava men and women are strictly separated and women are prohibited from attending and performing many functions. Nonetheless their role as teachers is essential to a functioning community, providing intellectual but also cultural knowledge.

Dada Masiti managed to carve out a place of her own in this society by following her traditional role and expanding it.

Finally here is an excerpt from her work. It’s the final part of her eulogy for the Sheikh: “After Life”
It is one of her most famous pieces and the most famous eulogy in all of Somalia.

Hu xuzuniko mpeengele
Kutta schinendhroowa
Hu xuzuniko ni darsa
Fadhi schitalicoowa

Miskiti huwa miinza
Ataa tarha ichashoowa
Tarha waarhiko niyeeye
Nuuru ya ku rhangaaloowa

Sawarataani turhaani
Sheekhi siwo wakhpatoowa
Sheekhi karheente Jannaani
Na kurhiindra kendreloowa


The pathways he walked daily
Will feel sad,
As will his daily circle of students
And the lessons he used to teach

The Mosque will be dark
Even when it is lit
For he was the light
A bright light we all watched

Calm down and be consoled
For the Sheikh is out of our reach
He is residing in Heaven
Waiting for us to join him

image credits:

Brava today: User Vascoscream in Wikimedia Commons – Link

As there were no images of this week’s heroine available, I reached out to the community that started this project and was lucky to have had three awesome artists interpret her in their very own styles. Check out their amazing work:

1st picture: Anna Latchman
2nd picture: Annassez – on facebook, patreon and etsy
3rd picture: Kateryna Kateryna – on instagram and patreon

Kittie Smith – Refusing to Give Up

Katherine Smith, or Kittie for short, was nothing but an ordinary girl until both of her arms had to be amputated when she was only nine. But she would refuse to let this break her – or even shake her optimism.

In October 1882, she was born into a poor Chicago home with two older brothers and a younger sister to be born two years later. Often the kids went without food or proper clothes – a fact that was soon spotted by a local charity. So when she was nine, Kittie had the opportunity to attend a retreat in Whitley County where she was able to enjoy her childhood.

That happy time was cut short, when her mother suddenly died, making her the de facto head of the family and leaving the children in the care of their progressively alcoholic father. That same year, on Thanksgiving, her father drunkenly called for Kittie to prepare the food and as she didn’t obey (either she wasn’t quick enough or she refused trying to stand up for herself), he held her against the hot stove, badly burning her in the process. While her neck and chest got away with only minor burns, her arms were so severely injured that they had to be amputated. Later in life Kittie would claim that she lost her arms in an accident by her own fault, but court records highly suggest the opposite. Unfortunately Mr. Smith walked free as they couldn’t prove him guilty, but Kittie was taken from him nonetheless and placed in a home. That is when she was better, one year later, in 1892. The picture on the right is the only one showing her with her arms still intact and she “value[d] it very highly.” She is the girl on the far right.

So now Kittie lived in the Home for Destitute and Crippled Children, as a ward of the Children’s Home Society of Illinois. There she came to the attention of one Dr. Gregg who set up an education fund in her favour and support poured in from far and wide. So specialists were hired and soon Kittie had learned to navigate life with her feet. Not only was she able to write and paint, but she played the piano and even did needlework! And when she moved to Wisconsin at age 14, the fund paid for her to attend public school. She didn’t take this for granted though and studiously completed her High School education.

But the time came she turned 21 and was no longer considered a child. This meant that she was no longer the responsibility of the Home Society. Furthermore her charity fund had run out. In the meantime her father had died, her brothers could hardly sustain themselves and the family had lost contact to her younger sister who had been adopted into another family. Kittie was on her own. Still she refused to give up. She began selling paintings and needlework done wit her feet, making a small living. With the support from friends she published a small magazine telling her life story which she distributed in the neighborhood. Included with the pamphlet came a return card with a slot for a quarter which the reader would only send if he found himself moved by the story – one of the first crowdfunding campaigns so to speak.

I don’t know if it was her tragic story, her optimism or the fact that she had forgiver her father long ago, but something about the young woman moved the people and by 1906 Kittie had crowdfunded more than $35.000 – all in quarters. And she put the money to good use, founding the Kittie Smith Company. Aiming to improve the living quality of disabled children, the company was created to help them overcome the obstacles created by their handicaps. To finance her endeavors, she now began selling her autobiography officially.  Below you can see a few pages of the little book, showing her drawing and embroidery skills.

In 1913 women finally obtained the right to vote in Chicago. Kittie, now 31 years old, was the first to cast a ballot – using only her feet. Then it became relatively quiet around her until the 1930s when she joined the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as a professional “Armless Wonder,” showcasing her remarkable skills.

She didn’t seem to like that line of work too much though, as soon she quietly left the spotlight for good. And that’s where her traces end. I like to imagine that she had quite a comfortable life though, managing her small business, painting and playing the piano.


You can read Kittie’s own account of her life and see more pictures here.

image credits: Sideshow World – Link

Edith Cavell – Spy Nurse

In World War I a nurse was executed for treason by a firing squad. Do you wonder how she ended up like that?
Please read on.

Edith Cavell’s life didn’t start out that extraordinarily. She was born in Norwich in 1865 as the eldest of four children. Although the family wasn’t exactly rich, her parents believed into sharing what they had with the less fortunate. A sentiment that stayed with Edith all her life. She was educated in several boarding schools, like quite a few girls with her upbringing, and after graduating started working as a governess. After a brief period of travelling however, her father fell sick and she decided to return home and care for him. This was when the seed of her wish to become a nurse was planted.

Eventually he recovered and Edith began her job as a nurse probationer in London Hospital when she was 30. It was a hard job, but it showed she had a real talent for it. She even earned a medal for her work during a typhoid outbreak in Kent! Edith was dedicated to her job, working in several hospitals and visiting patients in their homes.

In 1907, she was approached by Dr Antoine Depage, the director of a newly established nursing school in Brussels, who wanted her to teach there. Upon realizing how poorly trained Belgian nurses were (as it has been long regarded a male profession there) she accepted and packed her bags. Her teaching was strict and her standards high, but the hard work paid off. Even Queen Elizabeth asked for a nurse trained there when she broke her arm, giving the faculty the royal seal of approval. In 1910, Edith decided it was time for a professional nursing journal and promptly launched one herself, called L’infirmière. And so her reputation grew and within a year she trained nurses in 3 hospitals, 24 schools, and 13 kindergartens in Belgium. On the right, that’s her when she lived in Brussels. The dog on the right, “Jack” was rescued after her death.

Taking a break from her busy life, she was just visiting her mother (her father had died shortly before) when World War I broke out. Hastily Edith returned to Brussels to care for all the wounded soldiers that came flooding in. For her efforts she became matron of the hospital, overseeing the nurses’ activities and organizing them. In the picture you can see her amidst her nurse squad.

When the Germans occupied Belgium in 1914, Edith began sheltering soldiers – both, Allied and German – and helped them flee the country. Not only did she hide them in her own cellar until trusted guides were found to send them to the next station in the smuggling network, she also invented ruses for them to be able to flee safely. And that’s not all! Written on fabric and sewn into clothes and hidden in shoes, Edith and her organization sent military intel to the British. Unfortunately Edith was a generally outspoken person, so she wasn’t exactly inconspicuous. And in 1915 she was betrayed by a member of her network (who ironically was executed all the same) and arrested by the German military police.

For 10 weeks she was kept in solitary confinement but refused to talk. Eventually though, she was tricked. Her captors told her that her comrades had already confessed and if she did too, she could save them from execution. Naively she believed them. Edith signed her confession one day before her trial. Unfortunately she was a little too thorough, admitting not only to helping Allied soldiers flee the country but also sending them to a country at war with Germany – namely Britain, from where they would often send her postcards upon their safe arrival. Never leave a paper trail, people! Unfortunately the punishment for that crime was death, according to German military law (which, in times of war, did not only apply to Germans but to all people in occupied areas.) So she was sentenced to death by shooting.

Interestingly enough, quite a few countries had something to say about this. Not only did Great Britain try to save her (denying the espionage charge of course), but the formerly neutral countries of Spain and the USA objected to the sentence as well. Unfortunately they were powerless. And so on 12th October 1915, Edith Cavell was executed by a German firing squad. On the night before her execution, she said to the priest who gave her Holy Communion: “Patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.” These words were inscribed to the statue of her that still stands in St. Martin’s Place, near Trafalgar Square in London (see the picture). Her final words are recorded to have been: “Tell my loved ones later on that my soul, as I believe, is safe, and that I am glad to die for my country.”

As the mention of a statue in her honor might have indicated, killing Edith was a propaganda catastrophe for Germany. Even though Edith herself said, she had expected the trial’s outcome and believed it to be just (after all she had committed the offense she was charged for), she was hailed a martyr. In Great Britain her death was told over and over by newspapers, pamphlets and books (often not very accurately and always dropping her espionage activities) which instilled strong anti-German sentiments in the population. All because she was a woman and a nurse – the picture of innocence. Especially her fearless approach to death contributed to her popularity. 

One more quote of hers: “I have no fear or shrinking; I have seen death so often it is not strange, or fearful to me!”

further reading: https://edithcavell.org.uk/

image credits:

Edith and her dogs: Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 32930)
Nurse Squad: Imperial War Museum © IWM (Q 70204)
Statue: User Prioryman in Wikimedia Commons – Link