A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service
Oreoluwa ‘Olaore’ Green was born in Lagos in 1885 to Francis Colley Green, who was a former Superintendent of the Lagos Detective Force. She is believed to have had at least one sibling: an older sister - Hannah Estina-Jane Green - who married a major player in Lagos colony politics named Benjamin Bankole Daniel. Such prominent connections indicate that Green hailed from a prominent family in Lagos. This elite background enabled her to complete her high-level education at CMS Girls Seminary, St Mary’s Convent School in Lagos, where she succeeded in Mathematics, Greek and Geometry with assistance from her private tutor Reverend W.B Euba.
Green maintained an interest in languages and the arts alongside her commitment to the sciences. She was fluent in English, French and Latin, and at the age of twenty-six she appeared as Portia in a production of The Merchant of Venice in Lagos. As Green appears to have used multiple names, such as ‘Oreoluwa’, ‘Ore’ and ‘Olaore’, we believe that she was also Sarah Ellen Olaore Green: a woman who became entangled in a court dispute in 1911 when she attempted to marry the renowned Dr Oguntola O.Sapara.
Adel Coker sought to prohibit the intended marriage on the basis of an alleged native marriage between herself and Sapara - a claim that he denied. Sapara is widely regarded as “one of the pioneers of modern medicine in Nigeria” for his efforts to eradicate smallpox, and he frequently gave public lectures to encourage Nigerian women to study midwifery. It may have been during one of these lectures that Sapara encountered Green and stimulated her passion for midwifery. The court case appears to have been rather public, and such exposure may have encouraged Ore to migrate to London in May 1912. Alongside a First Class Certificate in the Theory of Music from the London College of Music, she obtained a Certificate of the Central Midwives Board and a Honours Certificate from the Clapham School of Midwifery and Clapham Maternity Hospital. Green also acquired a practical pharmaceutical qualification - which reportedly made her the first West African female pharmacist - and she went on to qualify as a Licensed Druggist when she received her Certificate of Chemistry, Pharmacy and Botany from Westminster College in 1916.
She worked as a dispenser in the Soho Eye and Ear Hospital in London before she returned to Lagos in 1917, where she served as a midwife in the hospital of Dr. Richard Akinwande Savage. Savage’s daughter, Agnes, became the first West African woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain in 1930. Green appears to have never married or had children, and she maintained her commitment to healthcare as a nurse and pharmacist in the practice that she established at 71 Campbell Street (Lagos) during the 1920s.
Many thanks to Ed Emeka Keazor for bringing Ore Green to our attention, and for the information he provided in his book: 120 Great Nigerians You Never Knew.
Stephanie Newell, The Power to Name: a history of anonymity in colonial West Africa (Ohio University Press, 2013), 4.
Kehinde Thompson, (Clipping from proceedings) ‘IN THE SUPREME COURT OF THE COLONY OF SOUTHERN NIGERIA. 10th October, 1911. Before His Honour Algernon Willoughby Osborne, C.J.’, The Nigerian Nostalgia 1960-1980, https://www.facebook.com/groups/nigeriannostalgiaproject/posts/1087767927930655 (accessed 7 July 2021).