Be Bold, Not Reckless: Addressing the Gender Gap on Wikipedia

HLG Nursing Bulletin Vol 36 (2)

Janan Nuri
Information Assistant (Customer Services)
Royal College of Nursing
20 Cavendish Square
London, W1G 0RN

Out of all of the biographies on Wikipedia, only 17% of them are about women. As champions of all things nursing, a profession which even now is comprised of almost 90% women, the Royal College of Nursing embarked on an adventure to help address the imbalance on Wikipedia and to create more pages about important women in nursing history.

The Royal College of Nursing was founded in 1916 by a group led by women including Sarah Swift. At present, if you Google “Sarah Swift”, the first result is a Wikipedia page for her, but not a particularly detailed one. Her legacy at present is only a short sentence stating that there is a ward named after her in St Thomas’ Hospital, London.

Those familiar with nursing history will know that the accomplished Dame Sarah Swift deserves a much longer and detailed entry than that. She is just one example of important and influential women who have fallen short in the “gender gap” on Wikipedia.

To try and address this imbalance, the WikiProject Women in Red was created in 2015, with the aim to create more pages about women. Considering the RCN’s rich history, filled with inspirational women, it was a logical choice to get RCN staff and members involved in this vital project.

We invited the Wellcome Library’s Wikimedian in Residence, Alice White, to help us host a “Nursing Wikipedia: Editathon” event at our Library and Heritage Centre in London. Alice introduced us to various aspects to Wikipedia, explained how to get started, and went into further detail about the Women in Red project.

Pages on Wikipedia that are linked to other articles appear in blue, as all default hyperlinks do. However if there’s a name or topic on Wikipedia that doesn’t have a page yet, but which perhaps should have a page, the hyperlink appears in red, hence the title “Women in Red”.

Once you’ve made an account on Wikipedia, it’s surprisingly simple to edit a page, and with about 70,000 active contributors to the site around the world, there’s a lot of support available for new users, as well as a welcoming community.

One of the most important ideas which Alice shared with us is “be bold, not reckless”. Be bold enough to start a new page or add information if you see that there’s something missing, but make sure you are measured, that the tone is impartial, and that the page is clear and factual. You can find out more on Wikipedia’s Manual of Style here.

We began by compiling a list of all RCN Presidents and General Secretaries to add to the main RCN page. All of these figures are important nurse leaders who, again, fell short in this gap in history. When looking at records of the 36 RCN Presidents there have been, only 15 already had pages, and nearly all of those were little stubs, like Sarah Swift’s. Following the event 18 of the RCN’s Presidents now have a page, including our current President, Cecilia Anim. We also now have pages for nearly all of our former General Secretaries.

Using historic nursing journals, contacts within the RCN’s History of Nursing Society, and our archives, we’ve begun creating pages to help tell the stories of these women who are so vital to nursing history. It’s a slow process, but we’re determined to help plug this gap in women’s history, and we aim to raise the profile of nursing on what is one of the largest reference websites in the world.

If you’d like help in contributing to this project, get in touch with Janan at

You can find out more about Wikipedia’s Women in Red project here.

%d bloggers like this: