Agnes Yewande Savage
Agnes Yewande was born in 1906 in Edinburgh to a Nigerian Father and Scottish Mother. From an early age, Agnes excelled in her education. In 1919 she passed her Royal Academy of Music exams when she was just 13.
In 1923, she won a scholarship for GWLC. She obtained Standard Certificates in all her subjects, won a prize for Class Work and passed the Scottish Higher Education Leaving Certificate, before going on to Edinburgh University to study medicine.
At medical school, Agnes obtained first-class honours in all other subjects, won a prize in Diseases of the Skin and a medal in Forensic Medicine, the first woman at Edinburgh University to do so. She was awarded the Dorothy Gilfillan Memorial Prize as the Best Woman Graduate in 1929.
Work and Discrimination in Ghana
On graduating, Agnes was appointed a Junior Medical Officer on the Gold Coast, which is now modern-day Ghana. Unsurprisingly, she suffered double discrimination as a black woman.
Even though Agnes was a European trained doctor and employed by the Colonial Office, she was paid local rates and had to live in the hospital servants quarters. Agnes did not receive the same salary, paid holidays and perks that her white, male, British colleagues did, despite being more qualified and more highly skilled than most of them.
In 1931, Agnes’ situation came to the attention of Andrew Fraser, Headmaster of Achimota College near Accra, Ghana. The college was established to educate the future leaders of the country. Fraser recognised that Agnes was a woman with a huge range of skills and that she could be a role model for pupils at Achimota College.
He asked the Colonial Office for Agnes to be employed on a European contract, which she was finally given. She stayed at Achimota College for four years as a medical officer and teacher, where she encouraged a number of girls to continue their studies and qualify as doctors.
Korle Bu Hospital
After Achimota, Agnes returned to the colonial medical service working in a number of roles including infant welfare and maternity. At Korle Bu hospital, she supervised the establishment of a training school for nurses, where a ward was named after her.
Despite her achievements and qualifications, it was not until 1945, that Agnes, as a black European, was finally offered the same terms of service, salary and retirement as her white counterparts.
Return to the United Kingdom
Fighting for her rights took its toll on Agnes. She left the service due to ill health and retired back to the UK in 1947. She lived with Esther Appleyard (former Chief Education Officer in Ghana) in Hertfordshire and died of a stroke in 1964.
Agnes’ contribution to education and medicine in Ghana was her legacy along with the example she set for generations of women who followed her.