Inspiring Manchester People: Jean McFarlane

2024 is a special year for The University of Manchester as we celebrate our 200th anniversary! This amazing milestone gives us an opportunity to reflect on all of the amazing and inspiring individuals who have made Manchester what we are today.

That’s why we’re delighted to share this series of blog posts written by our students – sharing the stories of individuals who inspire them from Manchester’s past and present.

In this post, second year student Livingston, shares why they are personally inspired by the life of Jean McFarlane, Baroness McFarlane of Llandaff. In 2009, the University opened the Jean McFarlane Building in her honour – the new home of the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work, the School of Community Based Medicine and the Institute of Health Sciences.

Jean McFarlane (1926 – 2012)

by Livingston, MEng Aerospace Engineering, Year 2

Jean McFarlane is a name that is not familiar to many, but one that is admired for her contribution to healthcare and social reform. Her dedication and passion to improving the lives of others has left a mark on the city of Manchester and the healthcare sector as a whole. Jean McFarlane was born in 1926 and grew up seeing the lasting effects that war had on Great Britain. She saw the injustices and disparities that were at work in society and committed her life to bringing about change.

Jean started her career as a nurse and showcased her skills in caring for patients and showing empathy. She became the Principal to the Manchester College of Nursing and Midwifery in 1974 where she revolutionised the state of nursing education in the region. Jean created the first university-based nursing program at The University of Manchester. This radical vision elevated the nursing profession and created a pathway for many aspiring nurses to receive a high-level education so they could pursue their passion.

I chose Jean McFarlane as my inspirational figure as she is not just someone who is inspiring because of her professional achievements, but her sheer courage and the resilience she displayed in times of adversity. As a woman in a male-dominated field at the time, there were surely many obstacles and prejudices that she faced. She combated the social norms at the time and paved the way for future generations of women to enter her field. Jean was dedicated to equity and inclusion and her efforts not only transformed education but also society as a whole. Using her influence in industry she worked within marginalised communities and challenged healthcare disparities to improve access to high-level healthcare for all.

It is also inspiring to hear the story of a woman challenging social norms, not being a woman myself, Jean’s story reminds me of my mother. Before my mother came to the UK she worked as a nurse in Sri Lanka. In times of discrimination and with a lack of education, she persevered through adversity and made her way into the healthcare sector. Her passion for helping her marginalised community by becoming an aid to those in need pushed her into the healthcare sector. My mother became an inspiration for those in her family as she worked for the betterment of her community in a male-dominated industry.

The parallels between my mother’s story and Jean McFarlane’s are what make her an inspiration to me. Both of their stories serve as reminders of the power of perseverance and determination. In the face of oppressive social norms and barriers, they were steadfast in their goal and left a lasting impression on their communities. It reminds us to keep pushing forward for a better and inclusive future.