Born in 1926 in Benin City. Geography teacher, chairperson of the University of Ibadan Library Studies, first female Professor in Nigeria, activist for women’s empowerment, secretary (1954-1959) and president (1959-1961) of the Women’s Improvement Society (WIS), founding member and secretary (1957-1961) of the Council of Women’s Societies (CWS), board member of International Alliance of Women (IAW) (1958-1961), founding member and secretary (1959) of the National Council of Women’s Societies (NCWS), member of the Banjo Commission (1960/1961), organizer of the seminar “The African Woman Designs her Future” (1960), secretary of the West African Council of Women’s Societies (1960-1961), founding member, secretary (1964-1965), vice-president (1964) and president (1971-1975) of the National Association of University Women (NAUW).

Professor Ogunsheye, an influential female activist for the social rights of women, was born Felicia Adetowun Omolara Banjo on the 5th of December 1926 in Benin City, Nigeria. Concerned with equality of education for their seven sons and daughters, her parents - who were teachers at a missionary school in Benin City – gave Mrs Ogunsheye the opportunity to pursue higher education. From 1939 to 1945, she attended the Lagos Queen’s College and then, in 1946, enrolled at the Yaba Higher College, where she was the only female student and the first woman to graduate from the institution when she obtained the Higher College Teaching Diploma in 1948. One year later, she was granted a scholarship and left Nigeria to read geography at the Newnham College of the University of Cambridge. She returned to Nigeria in 1954 as a geography teacher. After a few years of teaching in Ilesha at the Anglican Girls’ Grammar School, and in Ibadan at the St. Anne’s School, Mrs Ogunsheye started working at the University of Ibadan as Chief of department of Library Studies. In 1973, she became Professor of Library Studies and the first female Professor in Nigeria.
She married Fidelis Ayedele Ogunsheye, a very influential activist both as an educationist and a labor unionist in Nigeria. He was one of the founding members of the Egbe Omo Oduduwa, an association created in London in 1945 and led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo. Initially destined to fulfil a cultural role, it aimed to bring together around a common culture the Yoruba diaspora in the United Kingdom. At the heart of the organisation is a celebration of Yoruba identity, which goes on to form the centre of the Action Group’s political line. From 1954 to 1957, Mr Ogunsheye was the vice-director of Extra-Mural Studies at the University of Ibadan, becoming Professor of Adult Education and director of the department from 1957 to 1965.
As a women’s rights activist, Professor Ogunsheye, was one of the most active members of the Women’s Improvement Society (WIS), which she joined in 1954 on the invitation of its president, Mrs Ogunlesi . Her work with the organisation tapped into her strong commitment to the social rights of women, namely better and equal opportunities of education and better working and living conditions for women and girls. Professor Ogunsheye was also a founding member and the secretary of the Council of Women’s Societies (CWS), an umbrella organisation that brought together all of Ibadan’s women’s associations in order to better cooperate towards the improvement of women’s situation. Founded in Ibadan in 1957, this organisation was renamed Nigerian Council of Women’s Societies (NCWS) in 1959 when it came to include all the women’s associations in Nigeria and Professor Ogunsheye was named secretary of the western branch.
Her dedication to the improvement of women’s lives took an international dimension in 1958, when Professor Ogunsheye, as secretary of the WIS, took part in the International Alliance of Women (IAW) conference in Athens, Greece. This American association was founded in 1904 by a group of former members of the International Council of Women, who were motivated to prioritise the issue of women’s suffrage. In Athens, Prof. Ogunsheye was appointed member of the Administrative Council of the association and she proposed the project of the first international conference of West African women. This seminar finally took place in Ibadan from the 1st to the 12th of August 1960 with Mrs Ogunlesi taking an active role in the organisation alongside Prof. Ogunsheye. Entitled “The African Woman Designs her Future” and presided by Professor Ogunsheye (who had been elected president of the WIS the previous year), the seminar was attended by sixty-one women from the Federation of Mali, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Togo, Dahomey, Southern Cameroon and Nigeria. It was the first step in the creation of a West African platform to discuss West African women’s issues and to find common and shared solutions. The same year was formed the West African Council of Women’s Societies (WACWS) with Professor Ogunsheye as its first secretary. One year later, in 1961, following a conference in Guinea where the organisation was meant to adopt a constitution, Mrs Ogunsheye and the Nigerian delegation decided to pull out due to the communist political leaning taken by the WACWS, instead of the decidedly social orientation that had initially been devised in Ibadan.
Professor Ogunsheye’s interest in the social field, especially in education, was further demonstrated by her participation in the Banjo commission, whose aim was to reform the system of education in the ten Western Region of Nigeria. The Banjo Report, published in 1961, recommended practical skills to be taught alongside academic subjects. Moreover, in 1964, she was one of the founding members of the Western Branch of the Nigerian Association of University Women (NAUW). This association brought together women academics from all over the country to work towards better curricula for girls in schools and universities and to promote seminars and lectures on the status of Nigerian women in different spheres of life as well as necessary changes to better their living conditions.
Throughout her life, Professor Ogunsheye continued to be involved in activism for women’s social empowerment at city level as well as on a national and international scale. Although currently retired, she is still the president of the western branch of the National Council of Women’s Societies (thus renamed in 1960, upon Nigeria’s independence).

Sources : Interviews with Professor Ogunsheye, August and September 2014, April 2016 ; Archives of the Ogunsheye Foundation ; Adebisi Adetunji, I met the First Female Professor in Nigeria,

https://femininematerz.wordpress.com/2016/01/18/i-met-the-first-female-professor-in-nigeria/, 18th January 2016, accessed on 21st April 2016 ; Naijarchives, FELICIA ADETOUN OGUNSEYE, First Female Professor In Nigeria,

http://naijarchives.com/felicia-adetoun-ogunseye-first-female-professor-in-nigeria/, accessed on 21st April 2016.

Sara Panata

Version imprimable de cet article Version imprimable