Betty Campbell

Article written by Saffron Vanderkolk-Pellow

Artwork by Amy Titley

Betty Campbell MBE 6th November 1934- October 13th 2017

Who was Betty Campbell?

Betty Campbell MBE first black headteacher in Wales and a community activist. She paved the way for black history education and used her influence to open the eyes of young children. She did this all whilst raising four children.

Where it all began.

She was born in 1934 and live in Butetown, which was one of the first multi-cultural communities in the UK. She loved to read and dreamed of becoming a teacher so when she won a scholarship to Lady Margaret School for Girls in Cardiff, she hoped this was the beginning of her dream coming true. However, this was not the case; once she expressed her hopes to a teacher who replied with my “Oh my dear, the problems would be insurmountable”.  These words crushed her but they also made her more focused than ever before. In an interview she said “I went back to my desk and I cried. That was the first time I ever cried in school. But it made me more determined; I was going to be a teacher by hook or by crook.”  At 17 she became pregnant with her first child in 1951 whilst doing her A levels and left in 1953 when she married Rupert Campbell.


In 1960 she discovered that Cardiff Teacher Training College had started enrolling females. She had three children at this time but wasn’t going to let that stop her so she applied and become one of only six females to be accepted into the college. When a teaching post opened in Mount Stuart Primary School in Butetown she felt she had to go for it. She got the job, however not all parents were happy with it. “They hadn’t seen a black teacher before. It was as if you could do a job, but if you’re black you weren’t quite as good.” She once again channelled all the negativity she faced into becoming the best teacher she could. This paid off. In the 1970’s Betty Campbell become the first black headteacher in Wales.

She was inspired by a trip to America she had taken in which she had learned about anti-slavery activists such as Harriet Tubman. Once she become head teacher, she added Black history to the curriculum and taught her pupils all about slavery and the Apartheid System. She once said that “I was determined that I was going to become one of those people and enhance the black spirit, black culture as much as I could.” Her school become so well known that Prince Charles even visited her annual Eisteddfod on St David’s Day 1994. She was a pioneer in creating Black History Month and her multicultural education system become a template for schools UK wide.

Other Ventures

Not only was Mrs Campbell busy creating an innovative racially accepting education system she was also a councillor for Butetown between 1994 to 2004, was invited to be part of the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Commission on Education, was a board member of BBC Wales in the 1980s and become a member of the Commission of Racial Equality too.  On Nelson Mandela’s one and only visit to Wales in 1998 he requested to meet her. She won many awards in her life too. In the 1980s she was made an honorary fellow of Cardiff Metropolitan University, in 2003 she awarded an MBE for her services to education and community life and in 2015 was awarded a lifetime achievement award by Unison Cymru’s Black Members group for her contribution to Black history and Welsh education. In 2019 BBC ran a campaign called ‘Hidden Heroines’ to decide by public vote who the first named female statue in Cardiff should be. Betty Campbell won. Her statue will be erected outside BBC Wales in 2020.