Matilda J Clerk in her graduation gown

Dr. Matilda Johanna Clerk, born in 1916 in Larteh, Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana), was a remarkable pioneer in various fields. Hailing from a family known for producing trailblazers in the arts, academia, religion, and politics, Clerk followed in their footsteps. She achieved the distinction of being the first Ghanaian woman to receive a scholarship to study abroad and became the second Ghanaian woman and fourth West African woman to earn a university degree.

Clerk’s academic journey started in Presbyterian schools in the Gold Coast, reflecting her family’s affiliation with the Presbyterian denomination. She attended Aburi all-girls boarding school, where her leadership qualities were evident from a young age. At Achimota School, under the tutelage of Agnes Yewande Savage, a graduate of the University of Edinburgh, Clerk excelled academically, earning certifications and distinctions. She went on to become the first Ghanaian woman to complete the intermediate preliminary course in basic medical science.

In 1944, Clerk received a rare scholarship from the colonial government, allowing her to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh. Engaging in various extracurricular activities, she actively participated in the Student Christian Movement and the International Club. After obtaining her MBChB degree from Edinburgh, Clerk pursued postgraduate qualifications in London, specializing in tropical medicine and hygiene. Returning to Ghana in 1951, she dedicated her career to the public health sector, focusing on primary care and public health. Throughout her professional journey, she held esteemed positions and worked alongside influential figures such as Susan de Graft-Johnson.

Dr. Matilda Johanna Clerk’s legacy as a pioneer and beacon of Ghanaian womanhood remains profound. Despite facing gendered barriers, she triumphed through exceptional circumstances of birth, mentorship, and her family’s influential status. Although her story is not extensively documented, her remarkable achievements and contributions to medicine and public health deserve wider recognition and platforms for storytelling.

More information: