Matilda Johanna Clerk (2 March 1916 – 27 December 1984) was a medical pioneer and a science educator on the Gold Coast and later in Ghana as well as the second Ghanaian woman to become an orthodox medicine-trained physician.[1][2] The first woman in Ghana and West Africa to attend graduate school and earn a postgraduate diploma, Clerk was also the first Ghanaian woman in any field to be awarded an academic merit scholarship for university education abroad.[1][3] M. J. Clerk was the fourth West African woman to become a physician after Nigerians, Agnes Yewande Savage (1929), the first West African woman medical doctor and Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi (1938) in addition to Susan de Graft-Johnson, née Ofori-Atta (1947), Ghana's first woman physician.[1][4][5][6][7][8] These pioneering physicians were all early advocates of maternal health, paediatric care and public health in the sub-region.[1][4][9][10] For a long time after independence in 1957, Clerk and Ofori-Atta were the only two women doctors in Ghana.[3] By breaking the glass ceiling in medicine and other institutional barriers to healthcare delivery, they were an inspiration to a generation of post-colonial Ghanaian and West African female doctors at a time the field was still a male monopoly and when the vast majority of women worldwide had very limited access to biomedicine and higher education.[1][3] Pundits in the male-dominated medical community in that era described Matilda J. Clerk as "the beacon of emancipation of Ghanaian womanhood."[3][11]

Matilda Johanna Clerk
Matilda J. Clerk, Edinburgh, 1949
Matilda Johanna Clerk

(1916-03-02)2 March 1916
Died27 December 1984(1984-12-27) (aged 68)
Known for
AwardsGold Coast Medical Scholar
Medical career

Early life and family


Matilda Johanna Clerk was born on 2 March 1916 in Larteh in the Akuapem Mountains, where her father, Nicholas Timothy Clerk (1862–1961) was stationed as a Basel missionary at the time.[3][12] Her Basel-trained theologian father was the first Synod Clerk of the Presbyterian Church of the Gold Coast from 1918 to 1932.[13][3] and a founding father of the all boys’ boarding high school, the Presbyterian Boys’ Secondary School, established in 1938.[14][15] Her mother, Anna Alice Meyer (1873–1934) was of Ga-Danish heritage.[12][13] Meyer was the cousin of Emmanuel Charles Quist (1880–1959), a barrister and judge who became the first African President of the Legislative Council from 1949 to 1951, Speaker of the National Assembly of the Gold Coast from 1951 to 1957 and Speaker of the National Assembly of Ghana from March 1957 to November 1957.[16]

Her paternal grandfather, Alexander Worthy Clerk (1820–1906), a Jamaican Moravian missionary, arrived in the Danish Protectorate of Christiansborg (now the suburb of Osu) in Accra in 1843, as part of the original group of 24 West Indian missionaries who worked under the auspices of the Basel Evangelical Missionary Society of Basel, Switzerland.[13][17][18][19] Alexander W. Clerk was a pioneer of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana and a leader in education in colonial Ghana, establishing a boarding middle school, the Salem School at Osu in 1843.[20] Her paternal grandmother, Pauline Hesse (1831–1909) was from the Gold Coast, and was of Danish, German and Ga-Dangme ancestry.[21] Her grandaunt was Regina Hesse (1832─1898), a pioneer educator and school principal who worked with the Basel Mission on the Gold Coast.[21]

M. J. Clerk's older brothers were Carl Henry Clerk (1895–1982) and Theodore S. Clerk (1909–1965).[22][23] She had six other siblings and belonged to the notable historical Clerk family of Accra, Ghana.[23] Carl Clerk was an agricultural educationist, school administrator, editor, journalist and church minister[24] who served as the fourth Synod Clerk of the Presbyterian Church of the Gold Coast between 1950 and 1954 and Editor of the Christian Messenger newspaper from 1960 to 1963.[22][25] Theodore Clerk was the first Ghanaian architect who planned and developed the port city of Tema, while her older sister, Jane E. Clerk (1904–1999), a teacher, was a pioneer education administrator in colonial Ghana.[26][27][28]

Education and training


She had her primary and middle school education at Presbyterian schools at Adawso and Aburi respectively.[3] At the Aburi all girls' middle boarding school Matilda Clerk attended until the end of 1931, the European missionary teachers dubbed her the "Dux of the School."[3] M. J. Clerk matriculated at Achimota College in 1932.[3] She received a Cadbury scholarship in 1934.[3] At Achimota, she obtained a Second Division Teachers’ Preliminary Certificate (1935) and Cambridge Senior School Certificate with exemption from London Matriculation (1937).

Matilda Clerk was elected the Girls’ School Prefect in her senior year at Achimota.[3] She was also a trained pianist and harpist; as a student, she excelled in sports.[3] Among her interests were embroidery, art (painting) and gardening.[3]

In 1942, Matilda Clerk became the first Ghanaian woman to complete the intermediate preliminary course in basic medical science, taking advanced courses in physics, chemistry, botany and zoology at Achimota.[3][29] The British colonial government at that time effectively allowed only male students to participate in the programme.[30] Thus, before the school permitted M. J. Clerk to enroll in the course in 1940, her father had to formally petition the then Governor of the Gold Coast, Arnold Wienholt Hodson for a special waiver.[2][30] She was the only candidate, male or female, to pass the first preliminary medical baccalaureate examinations known as the 1st M.B., London, in 1942.[3]

Based on her superior academic performance, she was awarded a rare medical scholarship by the colonial government to study medicine (MBChB) at the University of Edinburgh from 1944 to 1949.[1][3] By winning the award, she became the first Ghanaian woman in the annals of history and in any field to secure a scholarship for higher education abroad.[3] At Edinburgh, she was active in the Student Christian Movement and the International Club.[3] The second Ghanaian woman and fifth West African woman (jointly with Annie Jiagge) to receive a university baccalaureate degree, M. J. Clerk was also the first woman in Ghana and West Africa to pursue postgraduate qualifications at a graduate school when she obtained a diploma in tropical medicine and hygiene (DTM&H) in 1950 from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a constituent college of the University of London; she returned to her homeland in January 1951.[1][2][3][31][32]

Other pioneers in West Africa


In 1933, Sierra Leonean political activist Edna Elliot-Horton became the second West African woman higher education graduate and the first to complete a bachelor's degree in the liberal arts.[1] Annie Jiagge, also an alumna of Achimota School and the first Ghanaian woman judge, completed her law degree at the London School of Economics in 1949.[33] Many leading lights in the Gold Coast medical profession during that period, including her fellow pioneering colleagues, Charles Odamtten Easmon, Emmanuel Evans-Anfom and Susan Ofori-Atta, also attended Achimota School and the University of Edinburgh Medical School.[1][3][29]



Science teacher


In between her teacher training/secondary education and preliminary medical course at Achimota, she was a science teacher at the Wesley Girls' High School from 1938 to 1940.[3] She later taught biology for two years at her alma mater, Achimota School, from 1942 to 1944.[3]

Medical doctor


Shunning a more lucrative private medical practice, she spent her entire career working in the public sector in the fields of primary care and public health. She was a medical officer and superintendent in the Gold Coast Civil Service.[3] Hospitals she worked at include the Maternity Unit of Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital (1951–53), Kumasi Central Hospital (1954–57), Effia-Nkwanta Hospital, Sekondi (1957–62) and Tema General Hospital (1962–68).[3] She was promoted to the rank of principal medical officer in 1969 and served for a time at the Princess Marie Louise Hospital for Women, now the Accra Children's Hospital with Susan Ofori-Atta.[1][2] She also worked at the Health Education Division of the School of Hygiene in Accra from 1969 to 1971. She was the Senior Medical Officer at the Communicable Diseases, Maternal and Child Health Units of the Regional Medical Officer of Health's Office under the Ministry of Health in Accra from 1971 to 1973.[3] She often acted as the Regional Medical Officer.[3]

Death and funeral


Matilda Clerk died suddenly, aged 68, on 27 December 1984 at her home in Osu, Accra.[3] Her funeral service was held at the Ebenezer Presbyterian Church, Osu; her remains were buried in the church's graveyard, the Basel Mission Cemetery, also in Osu, Accra.[3] The Ghanaian physician, scholar, university administrator and public servant Emmanuel Evans-Anfom delivered the eulogy at her funeral.[3][11]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Patton, Adell Jr. (13 April 1996). Physicians, Colonial Racism, and Diaspora in West Africa. University Press of Florida. p. 29. ISBN 9780813014326.
  2. ^ a b c d Ferry, Georgina (November 2018). "Agnes Yewande Savage, Susan Ofori-Atta, and Matilda Clerk: three pioneering doctors". The Lancet. 392 (10161): 2258–2259. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(18)32827-7. ISSN 0140-6736. S2CID 53713242.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac Clerk, Nicholas T. (5 January 1985). "Obituary: Dr. Matilda Johanna Clerk, MBChB, DTM&H". Accra: Presbyterian Church of Ghana Funeral Bulletin. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  4. ^ a b "CAS Students to Lead Seminar On University's African Alumni, Pt. IV: Agnes Yewande Savage". Postgrads from the Edge. 16 November 2016. Archived from the original on 5 August 2017. Retrieved 5 August 2017.
  5. ^ Mitchell, Henry. "Dr Agnes Yewande Savage - West Africa's First Woman Doctor (1906-1964)" (PDF). Centre of African Studies. Archived (PDF) from the original on 1 June 2018.
  6. ^ "Tabitha Medical Center | Celebrating African Women in Medicine". Archived from the original on 6 December 2017. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  7. ^ Anibaba, Musliu Olaiya (2003). A Lagosian of the 20th century: an autobiography. Tisons Limited. ISBN 9789783557116. Archived from the original on 23 December 2016.
  8. ^ "National Commission On Culture". Archived from the original on 22 July 2015. Retrieved 20 February 2018.
  9. ^ Joeden-Forgey, Elisa von (1 August 1997). "How Europe Underdeveloped African Medicine (review of Patton, Adell Jr., Physicians, Colonial Racism and Diaspora in West Africa)". Archived from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  10. ^ Physicians, colonial racism, and diaspora in West Africa / Adell Patton, Jr. - Version details. Gainesville : University Press of Florida. 1996. ISBN 9780813014326. Archived from the original on 6 April 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  11. ^ a b Seck, Fatima. "Matilda J. Clerk – UncoverED". Archived from the original on 22 January 2019. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  12. ^ a b Debrunner, Hans W. (1965). Owura Nico, the Rev. Nicholas Timothy Clerk, 1862-1961: Pioneer and Church Leader. Accra: Waterville Publishing House.
  13. ^ a b c "Clerk, Nicholas Timothy, Ghana, Basel Mission". Archived from the original on 28 March 2016. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  14. ^ "PRESEC | ALUMINI PORTAL". (in Russian). Archived from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  15. ^ "70 Years of excellent secondary education" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 22 July 2011. Retrieved 10 April 2017.
  16. ^ "Janus: Progress in the Colonies, 1940s-1950s". Archived from the original on 6 August 2017. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  17. ^ Dawes, Mark (7 October 2003). "A Ghanaian church built by Jamaicans". Jamaican Gleaner. Archived from the original on 21 November 2017.
  18. ^ Debrunner, Hans W. (1967). A history of Christianity in Ghana. Accra: Waterville Pub. House. Archived from the original on 3 July 2013.
  19. ^ "The Christian Messenger, Basel, 1883-1917".
  20. ^ "Osu Salem". Archived from the original on 29 March 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  21. ^ a b Sill, Ulrike (2010). Encounters in Quest of Christian Womanhood: The Basel Mission in Pre- and Early Colonial Ghana. BRILL. ISBN 978-9004188884. Archived from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  22. ^ a b "Carl Clerk - Historical records and family trees - MyHeritage". Archived from the original on 6 April 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  23. ^ a b Clerk, N. T. (1943). The Settlement of West Indian Emigrants on the Gold Coast 1843-1943 - A Centenary Sketch. Accra.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  24. ^ "Religion". Jet. Johnson Publishing Company. 26 August 1954. Archived from the original on 7 April 2017. Retrieved 20 February 2019.
  25. ^ Clerk, Nicholas T. (5 June 1982). "Obituary:The Reverend Carl Henry Clerk". Accra: Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Funeral Bulletin. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  26. ^ Goold, David. "Dictionary of Scottish Architects - DSA Architect Biography Report (April 11, 2017, 4:58 pm)". Archived from the original on 7 April 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  27. ^ Ofori-Mensah. "22 Successful Ghanaians Who Went To Achimota School". OMGVoice. Archived from the original on 30 March 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  28. ^ "Profile of THEODORE SHEALTIEL CLERK". Archived from the original on 7 April 2017. Retrieved 11 April 2017.
  29. ^ a b Frimpong, Enoch Darfah. "Ghana news: Dr Evans-Anfom: One of Ghana's talented surgeons - Graphic Online". Graphic Online. Archived from the original on 20 July 2017. Retrieved 20 July 2017.
  30. ^ a b "Effects of colonialism on gender relations in Ghana". 9 September 2018. Archived from the original on 7 November 2018. Retrieved 7 November 2018.
  31. ^ Tetty, Charles (1985). "Medical Practitioners of African Descent in Colonial Ghana". The International Journal of African Historical Studies. 18 (1): 139–144. doi:10.2307/217977. JSTOR 217977. PMID 11617203. S2CID 7298703.
  32. ^ Patton, Adell (1996). Physicians, Colonial Racism, and Diaspora in West Africa. University Press of Florida. pp. 29. ISBN 9780813014326.
  33. ^ "Jiagge, Annie (1918–1996)". 1 January 2002. Archived from the original on 18 October 2016. Retrieved 20 February 2018. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)