A HIDDEN HISTORY:
African Women and the
British Health Service
Susan Ofori-Atta was born in the Gold Coast, present-day Ghana, in 1917 to Nana Sir Ofori-Atta the chief of one of Ghana’s traditional kingdoms. She was Ghana’s first female physician and the fourth West African woman to earn a university degree.
Chief Nana saw in Susan an intellect that should be developed in the highest institutions of learning regardless of her being a female. An academically gifted student she enrolled at the prestigious Achimota School in 1929, where Edinburgh University graduate Agnes Yewande Savage taught. Susan would assist Agnes in the school sickbay, as well as attending her lessons. She was a top student throughout her time at Achimota and was appointed girls head prefect in her final year. Matilda Clerk also attended Achimota at this time. Matilda was the first Ghanian woman to earn a postgraduate degree.
After completing her secondary education, Susan studied midwifery at Kole-bu Midwifery Training School graduating in 1935. She practised as a midwife for two years in Ghana before choosing to do further study in midwifery in Scotland. Encouraged by her father, who provided funding for her studies, she undertook a pre med course for entry into the Edinburgh University Medical School and was successful. She graduated in 1947 becoming Ghana’s first female medical doctor.
Upon her return to Ghana she specialised in paediatrics and child nutrition. She first worked as a principal medical officer at the Princess Marie Louise Children's Hospital in Accra. She then joined the University of Ghana Medical School in 1962 pionering the paediatrics department. Susan was an advocate for causes focussing on women and children and even had her own private practice in Accra for female patients. She married barrister Dr. E.V.C. De- Graft Johnson. She retired in the UK where she died in 1985.
Georgina Ferry, ‘A Woman's Place: Agnes Yewande Savage, Susan Ofori- Atta and Matilda Clerk: three pioneering doctors’, The Lancet, vol. 392, issue 10161 (2018), p2258-2259