Ragnhild Wahlborg was a nurse who was called “the Angel of Ethiopia” with reference to her efforts to combat leprosy there.
Ragnhild Wahlborg was born in Gävle in 1911. She was the second youngest child in a family of eleven. Her parents were Vendla Dorigenia Wahlborg, née Askerlund, and John Wahlborg who was a Baptist pastor and an author. The family moved several times due to her father serving different congregations. He died from influenza in 1926 whilst travelling to the USA. Her mother lived until 1961.
Ragnhild Wahlborg was a trained nurse and got a two-year contract to work at Haile Selassie hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She departed in mid-January 1949 to take up her contract. At the Ethiopian hospital laboratory Ragnhild Wahlborg was exposed to a number of new (to her) diseases. One of these, leprosy, particularly took her interest. Her two-year contract was extended, enabling her to visit Princess Senebework Memorial hospital (later renamed Addis Ababa Leprosy Hospital), which was dedicated to patients suffering from leprosy. Several thousand people came seeking treatment and the hospital faced long, snaking queues of patients. This hospital became Ragnhild Wahlborg’s workplace for many years. She not only did her best to fight the disease but also to combat poverty amongst the local population. In 1955 she wrote home to one of her sisters, complaining of the local conditions, saying that there were shortages of all kinds and asking for help from the family. Several donations arrived, both from Sweden and elsewhere, and thanks to her efforts the village that she lived in received a water supply, amongst other things.
During her time in Ethiopia Ragnhild Wahlborg also worked as a physical education teacher at a girls’ school. Although she was not actually qualified for this position she did have the experience of fifteen years’ membership in Svenska gymnastikförbundet (Swedish gymnastics association).
Ragnhild Wahlborg released her autobiography, entitled Mina tio år i en lepraby, in 1975. In the book she described events in the village, the patients, her colleagues, and the wider engagement with the situation. However, she also included an element of criticism against a number of men she had met during her time who she described as blinkered and as only seeking career-improving chances. “Is it because I am a woman that I viewed the surrounding situation differently from these men?” she asks in her book.
Ragnhild Wahlborg died in Stockholm in 1983. She is buried at Gamla kyrkogården (the Old cemetery) in Gävle.