British Colonialism and Women’s Welfare in the Gold Coast Colony

Ebenezer Ayesu, Francis Gbormittah, Kwame Adum-Kyeremeh. Africa Today. Volume 63, Issue 2.  Winter 2016.


The history of women on the African continent was until recent times too small to have any significant impact on mainstream African history. Historians interested in women’s history received little support from their colleagues and institutions, but they persisted and have recently produced important scholarly works. Despite their increased interest in women’s studies, challenges remain. African women’s history, particularly during the precolonial and colonial periods, is scanty and often generalized. The available histories have tended to portray women only as princesses, queenmothers, concubines, and slaves, resulting from the fact that early travelers across Africa interacted with the ruling classes and scarcely looked at women. Their writings stereotyped African women as a picture of African barbarity, with their high sexual drive and high fertility, and therefore ignored them as historical actors. In contrast, Women in Africa (1976), Women and Work in Africa (1982), African Women and the Law (1982), Women and Slavery in Africa (1983), Women and Class in Africa (1986), Women and the State in Africa (1989), and other publications have contributed immensely to explaining women in Africa. This historiography of African women, however, has tended to center on the impact of European contact on them. The third category of scholarship on women has fixed women in an orbit that revolves around men. Women therefore enter scholarly studies predominantly in the realm of marriage and the family. Existing publications suggest that colonialism, apart from changing the picture of African women in the social, political, and economic settings of their own societies, largely failed to liberate African women, and actually diminished the prerogatives and rights they formerly enjoyed. A typical case is Toyin Falola and Nana Akua Amponsah’s Women’s Roles in Sub-Saharan Africa (2012), which argues that “with the formal onslaught of colonial rule in Africa, coupled with the colonizers’ gender-based biases, African women’s roles in history became even more marginalized and submerged under male representation that occasionally mentioned women in passing.” Contrary to this view, the present study argues that colonialism helped women in Africa by raising living and educational standards: it freed women from their engagement as farm labor and afforded them opportunities for economic independence.

In the Gold Coast colony, this was accomplished by Ghanaians’ collaboration with the British colonial authorities to build clinics, welfare and health centers, and other projects. It involved educating and training women of all ages. Correspondence about the funds allocated toward such development projects in 1932 emphasized that both Europeans and Africans had contributed to the fund. The Deputy Director of the Health Service and Secretary to the Gold Coast branch of the Red Cross Society assured the recipients that Ghanaians were responding quite well and the outlook was hopeful. By the 1950s, sufficient funds existed to run some clinics for women in the Gold Coast colony (PRAAD, ADM 133/31/60).

This example suggests how colonial encounters were supportive in improving the conditions and especially the welfare of women and children in the Gold Coast colony, and it supports what scholars, including Colin Newbury, have said: that labor for land, votes for jobs, payment for protection, and debt servicing were among the conditions necessary to address the differences in status and control of resources to fulfill obligations between unequal partners, such as the British and people of the Gold Coast (Newbury 2000:228).

Research Questions, Sources, and Methodology

The following questions have been asked. What kinds of works were available to women in precolonial times, and how were these works accessed? Did British rule alter the dynamics of women and children’s issues in the colonial era? Why were issues concerning children prominent in the colonial government’s decision making? In what ways did colonial rule affect females and children?

This study relied on archival data much more than on any other source. This method was important because unlike the traditional process, based on the researcher’s direct observation or evidence directly associated with the study, the archival method concerns itself with data previously collected and kept in a repository, not necessarily by the researcher. Archival data enabled us to go as close as possible to what had actually occurred during the colonial period on the subject of colonialism and women. Eight files were accessed, fifty-two documents from the colonial secretary’s office (CSO) files, and twenty-five from administration files, comprising themes on education, divorce, master-servant relations, employment, hospital fees, native labor, employment of women, widows’ and orphans’ pensions, and midwives. Most of the records were found in the CSO files, as this office served as the nerve center for the colonial administration.

Additionally, the authors reviewed information from secondary sources, mainly books and journal articles, to strengthen information obtained from archival sources. The data were analyzed to draw conclusions based on the preceding questions and the argument set for the investigation.

This study will serve as a reference for anyone interested in women’s and child-care matters in the Gold Coast. It was carried out on the assumption that knowing the factors that caused changes in women’s and child-care issues in the past will help people to deal with those issues expeditiously and with greater care. This paper is organized in three sections: an introduction to the issues under study and the methods of data collection and approaches for analysis, a discussion of women’s economic activities and social conditions before the colonial era, and an assessment of the effects of the colonial administration’s policies on women.

Living Conditions of Women in Precolonial and Colonial Times

Women featured prominently in social and economic activities in precolonial and colonial times, especially in food production. Men and women were jointly responsible for clearing land and making food farms, though women may well have done lighter clearing, while the subsequent tasks from planting to harvesting were women’s work (Austin 2005:107). In 1884, it was noted that women did the greater part of the farming. Women averaged over a hundred man-days of food-farm labor per year and were socially obliged to spend much more time on food cropping than men. The other tasks for which women were responsible were domestic, including caring for children, cleaning (sweeping and polishing floors), collecting firewood, drawing water, and preparing food. Women performed the most arduous tasks among the Akan, including the making of fufu, done in almost every house during certain hours of the day. Thus, women’s primary obligations concerned daily reproduction in the broadest sense (Austin 2005:108).

That women’s role in the precolonial and colonial society was arduous cannot be overemphasized. The Asantehene at his annual Odwira festival would emphasize the significance of women: “Life to this my Asante people, women who cultivate the farms, when they do so, grant the food comes forth in abundance” (Austin 2005:108). Although men gained riches, the situation of women, who bore and often brought up children, was severely constrained as opportunities generally for advancement were affected by their engagement as labor (Rattray 1923:105), lack of time of their own, and lack of assistance from their husbands (Austin 2005:109). Women tended to dominate or even monopolize extrasubsistence pursuits that could most easily be combined with their prior domestic obligations, notably spinning, which was specifically considered women’s work, and production for and trading in local markets, and Kokofu women bought fish at Lake Bosomtwe and retailed it in Kumasi (Austin 2005:109). Selling garden eggs was considered women’s work, alongside selling other foodstuffs: plantains, palm nuts, and beans (Rattray papers, MS 107:3, 1809). Women traded foodstuffs grown in Kokofu at the market about six kilometers away in Ahuren; with the money they received, they bought meat to cook at home (Austin 2005:109).

Production of plain pottery was a woman’s business, as it was not worth the men’s while (Rattray papers, MS 107; 3, pp. 1809-10). Women participated in a few lucrative businesses available for women for their own gain, including collecting the minor first and third kola crops; even so, they did so on a smaller scale than men-which is not surprising, given that they had much less time available for that purpose (Austin 2005:109).

Wives were obliged to help in cash-earning tasks, such as washing gold and other minerals, and less often in long-distance trade (Arhin 1970:107). One of Rattray’s informants in Mampong told him that wives used to accompany husbands to trade in the north and at the coast, but all the profit they made was for the husband (Rattray papers, ms 107:1:165).

Women were expected to give priority to the activities that enabled the household to survive and reproduce itself, physically and socially (Austin 2005:172). The diary of a European visitor to Asante indicates that dividing activities in families between men and women was harmful to the physical well-being of women, as opposed by implication to men. The European visitor identified two main reasons why a strong, healthy middle-aged woman in an Akan town was a rarity: girls were married early and made to endure a hard life, and so they aged quickly after they had borne two or three children; also, women did the greater part of the farming, on top of their domestic duties (Coppin’s journal book vi:29-30).

Traditional and cultural arrangement in the Gold Coast did not favor women. The matrilineal system in particular entailed the separation of husbands’ and wives’ possessions. The division of labor reserved to men the lion’s share of chances for self-enrichment-a situation similar to that in Yorubaland, where the transatlantic slave-trade growth of market production by commoners did not entail greater opportunities for women traders and producers. In the Gold Coast, wives’ duties were considered important to their husbands’ economic strategies. So great was their value for work that the husband hardly dispensed of her services, provided she was young and strong (Barter, Notes on Ashanti, 453). This notwithstanding, a husband usually ate with his male matrikin rather than with his wife or wives and children (Arhin 1983:473).

In gold mining, men went underground, but women did much of the other work in acquisition and processing (Austin 2005:107-10). Slavery and pawning offered free Asante men opportunities to acquire more wives and children at lower cost for work at the mines. Men had additional property rights over wives and children. For male creditors, pawning could be a source of new wives-and thus, of new children and bigger families for labor on the farms and in the mines (Austin 2005:175).

In precolonial Gold Coast, a male creditor could marry his female pawn, and he could treat her as his concubine or give her in marriage, generally to a nephew of his, although neither action cancelled the debt (Rattray 1929:48-52). According to an early secondary source in the mid-nineteenth century, “to supply the demand for women in Asante, the surrounding country were [sic] greatly drained of their female population. The tendency was for female slaves imported from the north to be retained[,] whereas males were more likely to be exported to the coast” (Wilson 1857:181). Oral evidence from Adanse confirms that slaves permanently imported into Asante were mostly female (Daaku 1969: 22). It is reasonable to conclude that the majority of first-generation slaves in Asante were female. A missionary, on his release from Asante captivity in 1874, was reported to have remarked that “the woman slave was rather the more valuable. She was to her master both a better worker and useful in other ways. As a female slave, she was so important that when slaves were required for sacrifice, the men were more often handed over” (Maurice 1894:271). Despite the high prices paid for female slaves before 1874, the demand for slaves was by no means purely for direct productive labor (Austin 2005:177). Buying female slaves as concubines or wives was a more secure investment than lending on pawns for these purposes (Austin 2005:179). Women engaged also in road clearing. According to the Chief Commissioner of Asante in 1917, when the road was needed to be cleared for cocoa traffic, everyone had to do their part. This notwithstanding, in many areas, all weeding and clearing of roads was female work (PRAAD, CCA to Colonial Secretary, Kumasi, May 3, 1917).

Women engaged also in the work of cocoa cultivation and farming generally. The report of an African traveling inspector of the Department of Agriculture suggests that female ownership of cocoa farms existed in Amansie by 1921, when enterprising women, particularly elderly and unattached ones, were making their own cocoa farms alongside the men (PRAAD, ARG 1/20/34). Female cocoa farmers constituted 3.46 percent of the total population of Asante Akyem, while cocoa farms as a whole made up 15.54 percent (Gold Coast, Bulletin of the Department of Agriculture, Gold Coast, vol. 20 [1928] 172-80). Despite the gradual increase in female ownership of cocoa farms, the proportion of such farms owned by women remained small in the Gold Coast (Cca to colonial secretary, May 3, 1917). For instance, of the fifty-three Ofoase farmers evicted from Esumegya land in 1939, none appears to have been female (Austin 2005:213). In a 1945-46 survey of Asokore, Fortes and Kyei found that of 246 adult females, fortyfour either farmed cocoa or owned cocoa farms (PRAAD, ARG 9/7/2). Women tended to own fewer farms than men, and their farms tended to be smaller. Miles’s Asante Akyem survey of 1925-26 provided figures for the size of individuals’ cocoa farm. He calculated that the average area of cocoa owned by female farmers in the study area was only 40 percent of the average for male farmers. Again, while for both sexes modal ownership was less than an acre, as much as 71 percent of the female owners were in this category, compared to only 37 percent of the males. No woman owned more than seven acres (PRAAD, ADM 46/1/1).

Though female cocoa-farm ownership rose gradually throughout the early 1930s, women by the end of that decade were still a minority among cocoa farmers (Austin 2005:304-5). Apart from helping husbands on cocoa farms, most women viewed cocoa production as a residual claim on their time (Austin 2005:305). A cocoa farmer’s wife was responsible for planting shade crops that were also food crops, largely cocoyam and plantain. She had the primary responsibility for weeding, though the man would help if the task was too large for her alone. Because of polygamy, the number of wives making some contribution to their husbands’ cocoa farms directly and/or by food farming of shade crops almost always exceeded the number of adult male cocoa farmers. The most important change, and the subject of most significant conflict, was women’s involvement in labor on, and even ownership of, cocoa farms (Austin 2005:305).

The evidence indicates that in the early years of cocoa farming in Asante, women owned only a small proportion of cocoa farms (Austin 2005:305). Women were important participants in the process, but not as farm owners. It was the wife and children of Kwame Dei for example who carried out the “peddling of the pods” over about six years, thereby turning Dei’s farm from a local novelty into a major center of diffusion (Austin 2005:306). Somewhat later, women and men from Bekwae walked to Akyem Abuakwa and returned carrying pods on their heads in order to plant the seeds on Bekwae land. In the early twentieth century, a survey conducted on cocoa cultivation suggested that 47.66 percent of Asante adult females cultivated cocoa or cocoa and food crops (Austin 2005:51). Data from a survey of occupations in 1956-57 of cocoa-farming families suggested that among the 40,487 women placed in the category of cocoa and/or food farmers, 9 percent were mainly cocoa farmers; the absolute numbers of Asante citizens engaged in cultivating cocoa comprised 1916 men and 1917 women (Ghana, survey of cocoa-producing families in Ashanti, 1956-57. In the early twentieth century, cultivation of cash crops by women shifted into the hands of men while women were relegated to producing food crops with lower returns.

In food-crop farming, women increasingly took over food trades in the 1920s and 1930s-which men had largely abandoned in favor of cocoa farming (Allman and Tashjian 2000:13-16; Clark 1994:316-22. Women, however, had been active in at least some food trades in the nineteenth century. For example, they seem to have monopolized the fish trade from Lake Bosomtwe. Again, if their share of food trading rose in the twentieth century, it had done so decisively by 1920 at the latest, when a chief commissioner, reporting the results of an internal inquiry, commented that “the traffic is almost exclusively in the hands of petty traders, mostly women. On this chronology, the shift was swift indeed: but that was possible, given the rapid growth of the cocoa industry and of male commitment to it” (Austin 2005: 305).

Obviously, women’s living conditions in precolonial Gold Coast were difficult. Apart from their roles at home and on the farm, they had to be serviceable to their husbands in making farms, petty trading, and indeed, doing anything of benefit to him. They sought to improve their economic status in different ways. Wives emphasized that a marriage was an economic arrangement. They expected cash contributions and cloth from their husbands. In a petition to the chief commissioner in 1936, Akosua Birago of Asante Akyem asserted that a man was obliged to provide his wife with cloth, daily subsistence, and anything of vital importance (Austin 2005:374).

Women contributed to the precolonial and colonial societies in several ways. In Asante, an insistence on gold as a medium of exchange apparently changed because people, especially women, traded in low-value commodities through barter (Wilks 1975:35-36, 434). The handicraft industry, from which women derived income, declined because of the importation of goods from Europe and Japan (Rojas 1990:32). On land use, the colonialists moved onto the land that had been cultivated by women:

The women were suddenly alienated from what had, for so long, defined them and their role in society. This had huge impacts on their economic situation as well as their access to food … It also made these women more dependent on the men in their society, which led to a sense of male supremacy and dominance (social, physical[,] and emotional), and a loss of the female identity, to some extent. (Keet 2013:1)

Colonialism and Gold Coast Women

The British colonial administration took steps aimed at improving women’s condition. One of these was to encourage women in the Gold Coast colony to engage in wage labor. Although the introduction of wage labor by the colonialists forced women and their children to leave home to work on European enterprises for meager incomes, their wages were a source of income to them. Later on, young educated women were employed as attendants at playgrounds. As some of these jobs exposed women to serious dangers, the colonial governments made suggestions to protect women’s health. For example, Major G. St. J. Orde Browne, OBE, labor advisor to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, stated that he did not understand the preference of female to male labor; he condemned the occasional instances when contractors employed women to carry stones and sand, arguing that that could be done only with the permission of the chief inspector of mines. The desirability of this arrangement for him was doubtful, since ample male labor was available and was far better suited to quarrying. He accordingly recommended consideration of the withdrawal of any sanction for the employment of women on such tasks (PRAAD, CSO 18/6/1).

A. C. Spooner, Chief Inspector of Labour, agreed that women should not be employed in surface works in the mines. He believed that the system led to the employment of juveniles, as women were always accompanied by their children and younger sisters. He recommended, rather, for women to stay home to look after their menfolk (Labour Department’s Annual Report for 1938:390). The colonial administration’s measures to improve the conditions of women appear to have placed women in a precarious situation. As women were no longer cultivating their own lands to provide for their families, economic conditions became unbearable, leading men to migrate to the cities and towns to work in formal employment. The consequence was that women, children, and families were left behind in a worrisome situation (Keet 2013:2). It was obviously one of the reasons why colonial administrators introduced certain policy measures, including education for girls and women and improving women’s health.

The Basis for Direct British Intervention

British colonial authorities generally believed that women’s and children’s well-being, even from a medical point of view, could not be considered separately from that of the men, but many spoke for women. Some believed that African women suffered more, compared to African men, arguing that this happened partly because the administrators and purse holders were generally men (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413). Many men were not associated with women’s work, and so did not realize the importance of improving women’s welfare. The government observed that, although the well-being of women and children demanded the cooperation of the male head of the family, many men were not given information and so were neglectful of, or even antagonistic to, measures necessary for improvement. To improve health among a people, it was felt advisable to consider women more an aggregate of family units than as so many men and so many women (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413). Accordingly, certain health officials opined that there still remained certain aspects of women and children’s well-being that could best be considered separately for improvement. This consideration was necessary as the vast majority of women in the Gold Coast colonies were occupied mainly in looking after the home and a husband, and in giving birth to and bringing up children, besides work in the farm or field, plantation, or factory, and street- or shop-trading. The first mentioned factors, however, complicated women’s problems (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413).

To keep a home and to care for a family in a healthy manner, women were deemed to require a special type of education: special facilities for themselves and their children, adequate medical treatment, education in health matters, and a special study of the social and industrial conditions that could harm their well-being. A health official believed that not only women, but also men, and the community generally, would benefit: “Were these factors attended to, were the women given the knowledge and opportunity to keep a healthy home and family, the good effects would naturally be felt also by the men and also by the whole community” (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413).

This support for women was even more required because opinion concerning women had become divided in the British colony as a whole. On the one hand, officials in charge of British colonies said in all seriousness that it was useless to spend money on women’s welfare until the economic and general health conditions of the country had improved. They argued that a high infant mortality rate struck a balance between the population and the means of subsistence, that it was better to let children die if the world was not a fit place for them to live in, and that weak babies who survived would grow up weak and sickly (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413). Mainstream colonial officials, however, deemed this argument to be superficial and fallacious for a number of reasons. In the first place, they argued that population and means of subsistence did not necessarily balance each other, and that a low population was frequently the result of ignorance on the part of the mothers, even in a land of plenty. They stressed that welfare clinics were meant primarily for the education of mothers and not for the treatment of sick children, and that many infants would die off if the government ignored welfare work. To this group, the law of the survival of the fittest might hold true for the jungle, but among human beings, its truth was less manifest, “as the loving care and foresight of even ignorant parents will frequently interfere with its action” (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413).

These officials held firmly to the assertion that the state had a duty toward every child that it had allowed to be born within its boundaries-an argument that tied in well with the Declaration of Geneva, which emphasized that “the child must be given the means requisite for its normal development.” Toward ensuring the success of welfare work, suggestions were made for improving bad economic and especially health conditions, despite the lack of money for the speedy progress of the colonies. Advocates suggested adjustments in the expenditure of the available money to ensure success of local health personnel training for welfare work, especially on women in the British colonies. They argued that in the early development of a country, it would seem necessary that a large proportion of medical expenditures should be devoted to the training of local staff, of which an adequate number should be women (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413).

Problems with the Policy and Solutions Suggested

These laudable suggestions notwithstanding, lack of money affected training of personnel, as administrators always faced the difficult problem of how to distribute revenue in the most equitable way. Besides, several colonial administrators gave insufficient attention to the value to be derived from teaching women in the colonies how to bring up a healthy family. By late 1936, concerns for improving the conditions of women in British colonies the world over had reached London. A committee the colonial authorities set up to study the report made the following recommendations. First, it suggested that the desirability of increasing the number of local women as nurses, midwives, health visitors, and doctors should be carefully considered in each dependency. It believed that the technical training of women and the arrangements for supervision of their work were matters of great importance, which should be considered in the light of the special circumstances of each territory. Second, the committee pointed out that a sound general education was advisable as a foundation for training women for technical posts, as in many dependencies the number of women having such training was small. Third, the committee recommended that the secretary of state invite colonial governments to consider whether, having regard to the financial resources available, the number of European nurses, health visitors, and female medical officers available for employment was adequate (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413).

These recommendations appear to have received the colonial government’s endorsement. Writing from Downing Street, on January 22, 1937, the British colonial authorities advocated for improvement in the conditions of women by increasing the number of health workers, the training of personnel, effective supervision, and sound general education. The letter, from W. Ormsby Gore to the officer administering the government of the Gold Coast, said in part that the committee hoped that the secretary of state would draw the colonial government’s attention to the importance of cooperation among the medical, educational, agricultural, and other departments to ensure the equitable and judicious disbursement of the money available for social services. The British colonial authorities recognized through their resolution that in the event of an increased supply of women with sufficient general education, more women should be employed in health work throughout the Gold Coast. In the meantime, it was widely held that the education of women was as important as that of men if social progress in British colonial territories was to be attained. Government therefore emphasized the increased importance to women, especially in their role in improving nutrition. These measures were more important as the sums spent on the education of women compared to men in the 1930s remained small. It was partly to bridge this gap that the government directed its attention to improving women’s knowledge in maternity, domestic science, child welfare, and public health from the late 1930s in the colony.

Women and Maternity

Maternity and infant welfare issues first appeared on the agenda of colonial authorities in 1916 or earlier. Available evidence shows that a committee was appointed by Sir Hugh Clifford to report on the excessive infant mortality in Accra. The committee found out that this was due to ignorance of midwives, bad treatment of mothers at confinement, ignorance of parents, family mistreatment, wrong feeding of infants, bad sanitation and dwelling conditions with consequent malaria, chest, intestinal, and other diseases. It expected government to find resolutions to these problems. It was not surprising that the government consistently reiterated efforts in the past by its officials at tackling mothers’ and children’s well-being in the Gold Coast. In the opening speech of the maternity ward of the Ridge Hospital, for instance, T. S. W. Thomas, the acting governor, reminded the audience about Dr. O’Brien’s efforts, which he called “the case of young children and the education of native mothers as matters ripe for consideration” (1928). Dr. Nanka Bruce called attention to the great loss of lives of infants and in women at childbirth. He urged the establishment of a maternity hospital and a school for midwives. By 1916, Dr. Rice, the principal medical officer of the colony, advised that a committee be appointed to investigate the cause of deaths among babies and mothers (Gold Coast Independence 1928).

Despite government and health workers’ interest in public health, it was estimated that between 1920 and 1921, out of every thousand babies born alive in Accra, some four hundred died before reaching one year of age. Sir Gordon Guggisberg, governor of the Gold Coast, appointed a committee to consider the possibility of building from funds raised by public subscription a maternity hospital and training center for midwives. As with other projects, the construction of this hospital was delayed by financial constraints; it was opened on May 19, 1928. Attendance was completely free. This was to attract more patients and provide a reprieve to parents. Thomas pointed out at the opening ceremony that except for one or two beds in small private wards for those who desired separate accommodation (for which a fee was charged), the government intended for all treatment and medical advice given in the outpatient departments and wards of government hospitals to be free for mothers before and after their confinements until their babies would be a year old. He invited everyone to visit the hospital to benefit from health-care services and gave advice on healthy living and urged attendees to share information with others:

I would … ask all of you who are here today-and I am addressing my African friends chiefly-to tell your relatives and friends all about this fine hospital and encourage all those that are heavy with child, rich or poor, Ga, Fanti, Hausa, Twi, Kroo[,] and all other tribes, to come here and avail themselves before and during their hours of travail of the skilled advice and treatment that is provided absolutely free of charge. In this way you will help to justify the considerable expenditure that Government has incurred[,] and much more important[ly] still, you will do your share in the hard up [sic] hill fight against the dread dangers that beset the poor mothers and their little babes. (Thomas 1928:1)

Despite Thomas’s plea, utilization of the hospital remained low, largely because of traditional practices. A review of this and other hospitals in Accra indicated that people were initially reluctant and patronized the hospital only after years of indifference to hospital services. It took months for the advantages of the hospital to be realized. Only gravely ill and moribund patients sought admission. Hospital services remained unpopular, as it was against indigenous custom for a woman to deliver in an institution or place other than her own kitchen (Synopsis of the Maternity and Infant Welfare Movement-Statistics Relating to Accra, p. 1).

Female Education and Training

Colonial authorities in the Gold Coast placed a premium on domestic science education, which they deemed important for several reasons. First, the system was an avenue for girls to gain basic knowledge in needlework, cookery, laundry, housewifery, child welfare, and hygiene. Domestic science was aimed at securing public interest in the education of girls and in providing special and appropriate facilities for it (PRAAD CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 1:1). It enabled candidates who failed to pass their English and arithmetic examinations to be awarded a certificate for satisfactory work in domestic science. Last, as the great majority of Ghanaian women married within a few years of completing their primary education, training in cookery, child welfare, and especially housewifery was considered crucial in their development (PRAAD CSO 11/1/413).

In collaboration with Christian missions, twenty-two schools for girls were built in the Gold Coast in the early decades of the twentieth century. Of these, sixteen provided the full nine-to-ten-year primary course. Of the six others, one was an infant school and one a junior school. These schools were provided with government grant-in-aid money and collectively were responsible for the bulk of primary education in the colony. All schools were supervised by women inspectors of schools. Achimota College educated girls from kindergarten to the school certificate stage, though by 1937 no female students had undergone postsecondary education there (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413). Each Christian mission had European women on its staff to act as headmistresses and to train teachers. By 1936, forty-two European women were engaged in teaching in the colony, exclusive of the women on the Achimota College staff, who numbered thirteen. After six years of primary education, female pupils enrolled in schools to pursue domestic science as a course of study; in 1936, approximately 3,400 enrolled for the course (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413).

Male and female pupils who completed the full primary course sat for the education department’s standard-seven certificate examination. Girls who had gained the basic school certificate were selected for training as teachers for government mission service, or they were admitted for training in the post-and-telegraph department, or as nurses or midwives in the medical department. The education department in 1934 instituted a scholarship scheme whereby male and especially female pupils who distinguished themselves in the standard-seven certificate examination could attend an approved secondary institution and take the school certificate examination (PRAAD CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:1).

Toward funding women’s education, the colonial government instituted a system of awarding grants-in-aid for recognized training centers. This was to help train more women and gradually expand facilities for teaching domestic science and allied subjects. Four training centers were run in conjunction with girls’ boarding schools: the Scottish mission in Aburi, the Basel mission at Agogo, the Anglican mission in Mampong, and the Methodist children’s home (Mbofraturo) in Kumasi (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413). The Roman Catholic mission had a separate training institution at Cape Coast, while Achimota College admitted women to training in the same class as men. The girls at Mbofraturo attended some of the classes at the mission’s training college for men. Between 1932 and 1937, about 156 women teachers were in training, and 191 teachers’ certificates were awarded to women on the completion of their training. The duration of the course was between two years and four years, and women were taught separately only in classes on domestic science and kindred subjects. The curriculum for the teachertraining course varied in point of detail from center to center, but in each case it was intended to expand female students’ general education, to give a thorough grounding in the domestic science subjects taught in the primary school, and to provide training in the theory and practice of teaching (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2).

Welfare Work

The colonial administration put welfare work aimed to better women’s conditions into two main categories: midwifery and maternal and child welfare and employment. Women were trained as midwives at the maternity hospital in Accra. On becoming certified, they could be employed in two main careers: they could be appointed as government-salaried midwives with a maximum salary of £208, or they could enter private practice and receive a government subsidy of £3 per month to establish themselves. In the latter case, the objective was to extend midwifery services chiefly through subsidized midwifery in areas without the services of a midwife. In addition, a long period of education of rural dwellers was deemed necessary, and so the subsidy of £3 per month was to be paid to motivate nurses posted to rural areas. Where possible, both salaried and subsidized midwives were supported financially to establish antenatal clinics in local hospitals, and their work was supervised by the local supervisory authority or the medical officer (PRAAD, CSO n/1/413).

To ensure the fair allocation of health workers throughout the colony, only midwives who willingly accepted postings to practice in remote areas were granted subsidies. Seventeen subsidized midwives were working by 1937, and seventeen additional midwives were waiting to be subsidized in the same year. The subsidy helped minimize the cost of living for midwives and gave the government a hold over the midwives, who would otherwise be independent private practitioners. The deputy director of health services could indicate the places in which midwives could practice and where to attend at antenatal clinics. It was necessary to attract several girls to the field. The knowledge that a steady income awaited a midwife in starting her practice was an asset and an encouragement (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413). The training benefitted women and the colony generally.

Government-salaried midwives, in particular, had a bigger obligation. They could be sent to the remotest areas to teach the inhabitants to appreciate modern scientific methods and thus to create a demand for midwifery services. Where and when this occurred, the work was then taken up by a subsidized midwife. Women’s accessibility to a ready job was guaranteed. In urban areas in particular, where preventive and educational work was readily available, midwives had little difficulty in obtaining a practice. In 1933, some 1,352 deliveries were superintended by midwives in various districts. In 1934, the total was 1,100; in 1936, the total was 1,930. The scope of welfare service was steadily growing by the late 1930s. All the large health centers, and many of the smaller ones, tended to have their government or subsidized midwives as midwifery service was gradually extended into rural areas. The number of subsidized nurses was increased annually, estimated on the basis of the women likely to qualify during the year. This scheme for subsidizing private practice worked well in the 1930s and provided an incentive to individual enterprises in building up a steady practice (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413).

Because midwives and health workers in general were young and inexperienced and had little training, proper supervision was considered cardinally important. By the late 1930s, improvements in organizing the supervision were receiving close consideration. Refresher courses, required from time to time, were arranged at first for the government-salaried midwives who had usually had longer experience on the job. The government proposed later to extend the period of training for midwives so that before qualifying, each midwife was to have a course of instruction in general nursing and welfare work, including a fair knowledge in domestic hygiene. This interest of government in women’s welfare appealed to traditional authorities, who were seeing an increasing need everywhere for ordinary midwives. Local authorities willingly sponsored midwives: in two instances, native authorities provided sums in their estimates for the payment of subsidies to induce qualified midwives to settle down in their localities (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413).

Health Visitors

Despite the government’s interest in training more women, getting suitable African girls to train as health visitors was difficult. Several factors accounted for this, including that the general standard of education in girls’ schools was low. Additionally, the seventh-standard certificate, the highest certificate for basic education in colonial Ghana, provided holders with just basic education, inadequate to pursue the required standard in training as a health visitor. Accordingly, health visitors’ salaries were deemed insufficient to make the service attractive, compared with the salaries offered to women teachers.

To the colonial administration, the future satisfactory development of health work for the benefit of mothers and children depended on their getting together a cadre of well-educated and qualified health workers (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:6). The administration’s solution to the absence of qualified personnel was to test some women with nursing and midwifery qualifications to determine their abilities to proceed to health visiting and preventive educational work generally. In the late 1930s, three women with the desired interest and keenness were discovered, after which it was hoped to make proper provision for them in draft estimates in the 1937-38 budget to fully qualify as trained health visitors. The administration made other recommendations, based on an argument that women played crucial roles in the society and that social improvement in the home life of people depended on the spread of knowledge among them. Knowledge was expected to be propagated by well-trained African women, with the support of voluntary workers. These women were expected to have the best available character and education and were to be well paid to enable them follow up cases involving women and children. In a letter dated August 25, 1936, the deputy director of health services reiterated this concern when he observed that much of the work of the welfare centers was discounted, owing to the lack of follow-ups of cases by thoroughly well-educated health visitors. He expected interest and follow-ups on child-welfare work in the homes of the people by well-educated visitors trained in nursing and midwifery. Interest in child-welfare issues tended to become more and more palliative, as cases relapsed repeatedly, and the staff wasted drugs and energy (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:7).

The earliest health visitors, those employed at the beginning of the welfare movement, were keen and hardworking, but they were deemed unsuitable by education or training for the increasingly important branch of preventive work. Although they paved the way for trained health visitors, they appear to have carried out their work in a somewhat rough manner because of lack of training and experience. By the 1930s, three good candidates had been trained and placed as nurses and midwives on the health branch staff (PRAAD CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:7). These women were ready to move up to the new grade, if approved. The vacancies created in the nursing section of the health branch were eventually filled by nurses-intraining at £48 per annum, and the number of experienced ward helpers was increased at the health centers. The earliest health visitors were retained as assistant health visitors to support trained staff, and as they gradually dropped out, the grade of assistant health visitor disappeared.

Dropping out meant something else, as it was generally asserted that these well-qualified women would earn more money by resigning from the service and taking up private practice as subsidized midwives. The better qualified health visitors were in the meantime considered to be better engaged to support those earlier on appointed to work in the field. The candidates in view were placed on a salary of £48-54-684; £98-8-138; £154-10-208, equivalent to that of an ordinary African nurse. The payment of the new grade of well-educated health visitor was proposed to rise to a higher scale, £222-12-282. It was hoped in this way to attract highly qualified African women into the new posts (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:7). Several competing projects affected the implementation of this proposal. The government rejected it for lack of funds, and the pay in the new grade was fixed at a maximum of £208, showing the rate these women would eventually draw without going through the trouble of gaining the extra qualifications required. By the late 1930s, the government was left with three posts to fill in the health visitors’ rank, but remained unsure if these positions would be filled by such candidates as required. The manner in which women voluntarily took part in such self-sacrificing educational work attracted praise and commendation (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:10). The existing health visitors worked hard in close connection with the welfare centers, following up cases and taking part in organizing home visiting; they helped at numerous infant-weighing clinics run by the voluntary female workers of the Gold Coast League for Maternal and Child Welfare.

Significance of Africans’ Response to the Health Visitors’ Work

Interest in hospital services, low in the early colonial period, began to develop rather fast in the 1930s and 1940s. By 1936, some 42,051 and 49,357 attendances had been registered at clinics in Accra and Kumasi, respectively, for the purpose of obtaining advice without treatment. Such readiness to attend regularly for educative purposes was deemed assuring. It encouraged more better-educated African girls to apply to take up child nursing than could be accommodated in salaried posts. As many of these as possible were eventually taken on at nominal salary as ward helpers at the welfare centers. The ward helpers assisted the regular medical staff, and as vacancies occurred, they were selected for appointment as nurses-in-training (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:11).

The ordinary hospital sister had little conception of the scope and requirements of preventive work, and the centers at times suffered from sisters’ being attached to them who had insufficient knowledge of welfare work. The secretary of state’s decision to give preference when appointing nursing sisters to those with a health visitor’s certificate ensured a sufficient supply of trained staff. Continuity was deemed most important, as it was generally believed that much of the success of welfare work depended on personal contact, and health sisters were expected to know their district and local conditions well if their work was to be effective (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:11). Although such helpers often left after a short period of service to get married, or for other purposes, they were always thought to have given useful service. The assistance given to the welfare movement in the Gold Coast by European nursing sisters who had had the special health visitor’s training was therefore immense. These women contributed greatly to improvements in women’s health in the Gold Coast in the early twentieth century.

The colonial administration proposed to develop the Accra Welfare Centre into a training school for public health nurses. It planned to submit a proposal to extend the existing building. To that effect, it requested that another full-time health sister be attached to the Princess Marie Louise Hospital in Accra. The scope of her duties included the inspection, supervision, and guidance of trained midwives and health visitors; the supervision of the weighing centers; the training of future health visitors and visiting midwives; and cooperating with and coordinating existing organizations connected with the maternity hospital and the Princess Marie Louise Hospital. These developments were realized following cooperation between Europeans and Africans. Improvements in women’s health accelerated in the third decade after World War II.

European Support of Autonomy

In a memorandum forwarded to the secretary of state under the governor’s dispatch number 610 of June 9, 1932, colonial officials in the Gold Coast discussed the subject of European medical women in welfare work based on their local experience. They advocated for medical women of the type of Dr. Chappell, who in the 1920s had worked in the Gold Coast. This was to help increase their numbers so that the health centers at Koforidua, Cape Coast, and Sekondi adopted by the Red Cross would be taken over by the government and developed into true welfare centers (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:9).

The scheme assumed that the European health sisters in the districts would be replaced by Africans who would correspond to the headmistress grade of the education department. Other British colonies followed the practice of using inexperienced nurses and public health workers and attained considerable successes. The annual report of the public health commissioner of India for 1930 on page 151 referred to an unsatisfactory condition whereby posts in health work were given to medical women with no qualifications or experience in preventive medicine. On page 160, it points out a lack of clear thinking about infant welfare-a situation held first and foremost to be educational (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:9). Unless, therefore, the rather difficult to find medical women appointed had the necessary training, experience, and interest in welfare work, efforts were sure again to be wasted. Welfare work on the Gold Coast was said to have suffered in exactly the same way by the employment of such women, and much effort was wasted.

The colonial authorities put in the forefront of their programs the development of a maternity service as one of their most urgent strategies. After that, they proposed to proceed to the training of a cadre of African health visitors for the larger centers. The increase in the staff of medical women at welfare centers was considered on the lines envisaged above. Efforts were directed to obtain the right type of health worker, though women of the right type were exceptional.

Child Welfare

The concept of considering children as members of a society existed and still exists in some African societies, including Ghana. There has not been a deliberate child-welfare system in modern Ghana, but the extended family, through kinship, foster care, and other community networks, provides care and protection for children whose parents cannot (Goody 1966:26-33). People living under colonial rule in the Gold Coast drifted from rural to urban areas in search of jobs, bringing about changes in the social system, which, coupled with economic demands, undermined the kinship foster care system previously available to children in need of alternative parental care. As far back as 1919, the world recognized the importance of childhood and child welfare when Eglantyne Jebb, an Englishwoman, launched the Save the Children Fund in response to the postwar misery of children in Europe. In 1920, her vision was set even higher when she moved to Geneva to form the Save the Children International Union, later to become the International Union for Child Welfare. In 1948, “the UN General Assembly passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Act, which refers in article 25 that [sic] children are ‘entitled to special care and assistance'” (UNICEF 2005:2).

In the Gold Coast, child-welfare services progressed rather slowly, as the government paid little attention to them, compared with issues concerning women. Although year by year the government proposed to improve the conditions of children and their mothers, the mass of disease was so great that mere treatment was always crowded out and overshadowed preventive work. Generally though, the government showed appreciable interest in children’s welfare. For instance, in Kumasi in 1937, a temporary European nursing sister superintended children’s work under the medical officer of the Child Welfare Center. In Cape Coast, a Red Cross European health visitor was charged to follow up cases and undertake home visitation. The African staff consisted of eight public-health workers (also called health visitors), four of them paid by the government at a maximum rate of £84 per annum, and four paid through the generosity of the Cadbury company at a rate of £50 per annum (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413, enclosure 2:5).

Engagement of health workers had its own shortcomings. First, health workers were not sufficiently well educated, generally or professionally, to advance the work as they should. Second, female health workers received a comparatively short course at the Maternity Hospital, at one of the welfare centers, under a medical officer of health in house inspection, vaccination duties, and birth registration (PRAAD, CSO 11/1/413). Third, educated girls were few and poorly distributed in the Gold Coast to engage the services of as many health workers as possible. These problems notwithstanding, health workers did quite well. They were pioneers, taken on only at the commencement of the welfare movement. Their enthusiasm for child-welfare work no doubt encouraged other women to be trained as child-welfare workers. Several nurses serving at welfare centers qualified as midwives-a practice that was steadily followed until several health-branch nurses were qualified to work in many areas of the colony.

Like the broader welfare system in the Gold Coast, the child-welfare scheme was shaped by colonialism in line with global developments. Records indicate that the initiative for establishing an infant welfare clinic at Dzodze (in the present-day Volta Region) was started by the Commissioner of the Eastern Province, based in Koforidua, in collaboration with the Roman Catholic Church. This effort, however, faced financial challenges necessitating a complete reconsideration of the project by the governor of the colony. A letter announcing this change of mind at the time the people of Dzodze had collected £100 in furtherance of this project stated to the vicar apostolic of the Roman Catholic mission at Keta that the governor regretted having to withdraw the offer of assistance; he was prepared to renew it on the same terms if and when the financial position improved. He worried that this instance of self-help could not obtain more immediate recognition from the government. In response to this letter, the mission indicated that the priest in charge of the station had obtained financial support from Europe to start the project: he had succeeded in collecting money for building the sisters’ quarters. So as not to indispose the natives who had given more than £80 for this purpose, the people of Dzodze decided to start building the house and hoped that God would soon put an end to the financial depression (letter of April 25, 1932, signed by A. Herman). Apart from this project, available documents suggest that a similar facility was begun by the sisters of the Roman Catholic mission in Kpandu, which later received the government’s support. The director of medical and sanitary services stated that while the infantwelfare clinic was a growing concern, he was prepared to authorize provision for its regular assistance on the same terms as the Kpandu center. The medical work done by the sisters at Kpandu was seen as helpful to the people and worth supporting (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/1). The project, however, stalled for insufficient funds. The governor in 1937 again stated that the financial position had deteriorated since 1929 and 1930, when the proposed infant-welfare clinic at Dzodze had been discussed. The governor regretted that it would not be possible for the government to provide in the colony’s estimates for 1933-34 any assistance toward the project (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/2).

This clearly shows that the government showed appreciation and approval for the Dzodze project, but lack of money crippled it. The financial situation can be attributed to the worldwide financial depression of the 1930s, or possibly a lack of commitment on the part of the colonial authorities toward child-welfare projects. Although the welfare of children needed political action at the highest level, these problems made actualization difficult. Children’s progress was not a key goal of national development. Many of the difficulties colonial authorities faced in implementing child welfare, such as competing projects for inadequate funds, persisted into the twentyfirst century. A UNICEF document corroborates this problem:

Over much of Africa and Latin America, … children have been allowed to suffer first and most, not last and least, from the effects of the debt crisis and of economic adjustment programmes … When former President Julius Nyerere asked, “Must we starve our children to pay our debts?” he should have been answered, by both developing and industrialized nations, with a resounding “no.” Debt relief and well-targeted assistance could have been organized in order to specifically avoid the cuts in services and subsidies which have undermined children’s nutrition, health care, and education. But in practice, the question was answered by a deadly silence. (UNICEF 1991:28)

This was the case of direct government intervention in child-welfare issues in colonial Ghana, although the government sometimes collaborated with private persons to improve child welfare. For example, in 1921, Dr. Jessie Beveridge on her own initiative opened a small infant-welfare center at Christianborg for schoolchildren’s and infants’ minor ailments. This had some initial success, as the government helped her by supplying drugs and dressings and later paid the salary of an interpreter and provided a small grant-in-aid. When Dr. Beveridge left for Togoland in 1923-24, government took over the clinic and rented a house to be used as a clinic in James Town. The infant-welfare center at Christianborg was later managed by Dr. Vane Percy. As this clinic risked closure because of financial difficulties, H. O’Hara May, deputy director of health services, in a memorandum written on December 2, 1930, asked W. D. Inness, director of medical and sanitary services in Victoriaborg, Accra, to help Dr. Percy keep the clinic running. For May, this was possible because money was available that year. He recommended that Dr. Vane Percy be retained in service till the end of the financial year. He expected this action to ensure that the people of Christianborg, Teshi, Labadi, and so forth would not suddenly be cut off from medical facilities (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/2). May added that she was exceedingly anxious that clinic be kept open.

Following this proposal, further negotiations were carried out, to the point that the clinic was leased to Dr. Percy to use in private practice with some government control. Using the phrase infant welfare was opposed by Inness, who, in a letter to the colonial secretary, stated, “the inclusion of the words ‘infant welfare’ in the penultimate line would prevent Mrs. Vane Percy from seeing adults, ante-natal[,] and gynecological cases),] and this is not our wish or intention” (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/6).

Other Projects for Children

For the exclusive treatment of infants and children, the Princess Marie Louise Hospital was opened in 1926 with provision made for twenty beds and cots. The director of medical and sanitary services believed that female medical officers should have an opportunity of investigating maladies that children were suffering. The Korle Bu Hospital, opened in 1923, had its isolation ward turned into an accommodation for children in 1932 to cater to infants under medical observation. Aside from the clinics and hospitals mentioned above, health centers were opened elsewhere in the Gold Coast, including Kumasi, Sekondi, Cape Coast, and Koforidua. These projects received support from the Gold Coast branch of the British Red Cross Society, which engaged trained welfare sisters, including Mrs. C. Browning for Sekondi and Mrs. L. Thompson for Cape Coast, to oversee activities in these hospitals.

Other child-welfare interventions were in the building of community centers, schools, playgrounds, and hostels and in youth service and clubs. Community centers were to be the focus of the social life of the communities. They were to be provided at a central point, with facilities for a wide variety of activities of the youth service and to be a rallying point for all youth organizations and societies in the district. They were to serve as the base from which the district welfare committee would execute its plans for improving the physical, mental, and moral lives of people in the whole community. Individual youth clubs, societies, and associations supported the government’s efforts. Boys’ clubs were established in the large urban areas to serve homeless and neglected boys. Other facilities included outdoor games and gymnastics, indoor games, cocoa, and hot meals at the cheapest rates and facilities for boys to wash their bodies and clothes after games.

Establishment of an experimental training school for blind children was another social intervention on behalf of children. E. M. Hyde-Clarke, the chief secretary, expressed in a letter to the director of education that the government had accepted the view that the training of blind persons was an educational responsibility, not a medical one. In December 1943, he and Mr. Cox, educational adviser to the colonial office, endorsed this at an informal meeting held with a Mr. Lacey and a Mr. Hosking (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/1). The blind children’s project was eventually expanded to include the welfare and training of blind females and otherwise disabled persons. Like other projects, facilities available for this project fell short of ideal. The government, in the light of desirable projects that would compete for funds and personnel, reviewed its policies and deemed the plight of those made blind during their service in the world wars more urgent (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/3).

Additionally, the government invested in children’s playgrounds as a fundamental social facility to improve children’s welfare. A memorandum from the office of the Accra town council to the acting colonial secretary stated that playgrounds in parts of Accra, including Christianborg and Labadi, should be contemplated (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/3). A committee that was subsequently formed proposed equipping playgrounds with “seesaws, maypole, swings, pond with shute, summerhouse[,] and shelter, all surrounded by [a] low wall with shrubs planted thereon” (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/2). The playground was to be open from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., for children under twelve years only. Construction of playgrounds in Accra, however, faced problems. For instance, the James Town mantse, in a letter to the colonial secretary, objected to building a playground at Ababio Square in Accra. He gave five reasons for his objection. First, the government had failed to consult with the stool to use the grounds; this he regarded as disrespect of traditional authority. Second, the square had not been acquired by the government (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/2). Third, noisemaking and other inconveniences during ceremonial celebrations were possible. Fourth, the mantsewe, comprising the James Town Court, the James Town Divisional Council Chamber, and the residence of the James Town mantse, were all situated close to the square; if, therefore, the square were to be used for seesaws, children’s yelling and applause would disturb the court and the council when in session. Fifth, the square was the only suitable place in James Town that had continued to be used for stool-related ceremonial and festival occasions (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/4).

That the district commissioner of Accra was determined to implement this policy cannot be overlooked. He disagreed totally with the mantse but submitted to those of the fishermen. His stated his position in a letter that cited several points: the square was already noisy, even without the playground, ceremonies held there could be held elsewhere, and the children’s happiness should come first, against the objection of fishermen and chiefs. Eventually, he opposed the creation of the playground in Ababio Square. During the fishing season, he reasoned, the whole square tended to be occupied by fishermen, drying and mending nets, and so a playground would inconvenience the fishermen. He therefore recommended that if a playground were to be established, it be on the open ground near the London Market instead. His position can be viewed in two ways: as both an upfront disregard of traditional rule and an expression of legitimate concern for children’s welfare. To him, children’s welfare superseded all other pertinent matters. Although playgrounds would serve as recreational centers for children, their location would pose a nuisance to those whom they would benefit.

After the Ababio Square incident, the acting director of medical services complained about a playground close to the Princess Marie Louise Clinic in Accra:

One of the drawbacks about this clinic has always been the nuisance of noise. The screaming of the infants in the outpatient department, [and] the ever-increasing sound of the traffic outside have always rendered mental concentration difficult; but now the added burden of the shouts from the playground adjoining the compound make conditions of work wee-nigh [sic] intolerable … Sick children require rest and quietness more than any other class of patients. This they are now being denied … Frequently infectious diseases, and the danger of cross infection between these [patients] and the presumably healthy children in the contiguous playground[,] is [sic] a real one. (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/4)

Elsewhere in Accra, the Central Welfare Committee, chaired by Alan Burns, was apprehensive about the Accra Town Council’s demand for financial assistance to construct a playground. Burns wrote that the committee was sympathetically disposed toward the project but considered that its expense should be borne by the council, as it was the townspeople of Accra who would benefit by the provision of such amenities (PRAAD, CSO 28/1/4; PRAAD, CSO 28/1/6).

The Social Welfare Department

The above interventions regarding women’s and children’s welfare can be said to be timely, although they encountered problems in their implementation. In 1943, a comprehensive plan to establish a social-welfare department to be responsible for the general welfare, especially of the vulnerable, was introduced. This began on April 1, 1943, when the foundations of such a department were laid by the creation of the post of secretary for social services. In May of the same year, an officer assumed duty and directed his attention not only to the formation of a department, but also to an examination of the wider field of social welfare-in relation to health (town planning, housing, and so forth), education, and agriculture.

The department was to promote and encourage a youth service, rehabilitate young offenders and juveniles in need of care, introduce a probation system, set up in every district at least one community center, and provide in the four largest urban areas hostel accommodation for young women. The district welfare committees’ function at the time was principally advisory, because no executive officers were on hand to carry out the plans for social welfare. The intention was to post a trained welfare officer in every district, so that the aims of the department could be effectively applied throughout the colony. It would not be the exclusive responsibility of a district welfare committee because such a committee was to be the administrative unit for promoting social welfare in its widest interpretation. Regarding youth service, the state accepted the duty to train its youth physically, mentally, and spiritually, so that each individual would be prepared for adult citizenship, able to take an informed and responsible share. Each citizen was expected to live life to the fullest, both for himself and his community, recognizing his social duties and responsibilities alongside his social rights and privileges (PRAAD, CSO 28/6/1).

To this end, the Youth Service aimed to improve health and physique by providing facilities for recreation, ensuring regular medical supervision and guidance on diet and personal hygiene, providing boys and girls in clubs attached to community centers with properly balanced meals at a small cost, and setting up a holiday camp organization to instill a sense of civic responsibility through lectures, films, literature, and other methods aimed at informing and interesting the youth in their life and work by creating opportunities for discussion and self-expression. Youth Service was to build up character by supplementing, in their leisure hours, the formal schooling of those who attended school and providing an alternative education for those who did not. A systematic plan was put in place to accommodate all age groups: twelve-year-old pupils of junior-school age were to join the Junior Red Cross Link, comprising Wolf Clubs, Brownies, Boys’ Clubs, and Girls’ Clubs; twelve- to-seventeen-year-olds were to join the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides; seventeen- to-thirty-year-olds (young adults) were to join the Rover Scouts, Young Farmers’ Clubs, football and recreation clubs, improvement societies, church youth fellowships, and schools’ old boys’ associations, and to use community center facilities (night school, library, and so forth) (PRAAD, CSO 28/6/1).

The problems of juvenile delinquency and welfare, greatly aggravated by war conditions, were issues of concern to the government and the general public. The government therefore made plans to curb child delinquency, including legislation on matters relating to the apprehension, detention, trial, supervision, adoption, and commitment of young offenders and juveniles in need of care. Juvenile courts were established and modern methods introduced to deal with truant juveniles. As the only reformatory school in the colony-located at Kintampo, far away from Accra-was badly and inconveniently situated, the government established a school for boys under seventeen years of age at Agona Swedru, considered a more suitable place. The school was to be controlled by trained welfare officers and opened for inspection by the Education Department. It was hoped that for young offenders of seventeen years and over, a senior training school managed by the director of prisons on the lines of Borstal would be made available. Hostels were to provide not only accommodation for young women in need of a home life and improved living conditions, but also a social, cultural, and vocational center for them.

A training school was established in Accra so as to rely on part-time lecturers, and an urban juvenile court, a remand home and reception hostel, probation work, a large community center, a young women’s hostel, and new housing estates offered opportunities for practical training. The prisons, asylum, leper settlement, hospitals, clinics, slums, and surrounding villages provided a scope for the immediate observation of social conditions and needs. In addition to these, hostel facilities were established in the schools of social welfare in Accra, Sekondi Takoradi, Cape Coast, Kumasi, and other towns (PRAAD, CSO 18/1/142). These were to provide services to women, children, and the vulnerable. The colonial government thus showed deep interest in women’s welfare and that of their children, the blind, the youth, and all others considered vulnerable. It succeeded because authorities systematically identified problems affecting women, mobilized human and material resources, and often reviewed its programs and committees’ suggestions. These helped enable authorities to improve the social and economic conditions of women and children in Ghanaian society in the first half of the twentieth century.


This study examines the colonial administration’s contributions to the welfare of women and children in the Gold Coast. It establishes that colonial agents’ policies significantly influenced the provision of social amenities for women and children. Through analysis of archival data and published works, it observes that promoting social welfare had a wider purpose than removing inequalities and making adjustments for handicaps. The colonial government desired to build a society that prioritized children’s education and improvement in women’s living conditions. Many projects geared toward this goal were proposed, and some were actually carried out.

The colonial administration’s provision for child welfare during the early colonial era was rather limited. It was the British government’s policy to discourage services that the colonies could not fund internally. Available evidence shows that lack of internally generated revenue slowed the development of social services and prevented the colony from realizing as much progress as possible in health delivery, women’s development, and formal education. To a large extent, however, the colonial government’s interest in women’s affairs contributed to improving the general welfare of women and children in the Gold Coast.