Meet Oxford University’s first Black African female graduate

She has been described as a 'glass ceiling smasher'

Lady Kofoworola Ademola was the first Black African to obtain a degree from the University of Oxford.

She was born in Lagos, Nigeria, into the Egba royal family, but attended school in the UK and the US.

In 1932, she arrived at the University of Oxford and studied English Literature until 1935 at St Hugh’s College.

Women were only allowed to matriculate in 1920, two years after some women gained the right to vote.

Lady Ademola paved the way for other black women to study at Oxford. During her time at the university, she wrote a biography detailing her experiences. In it, she challenged the stereotypes of African people held by the British.

As the only African woman studying at Oxford at the time, Lady Ademola recounted being regarded as a “’curio, or some weird specimen… not as an ordinary human being.”

She explains the feeling of being ‘othered’ and patronised by people’s prejudices. Lady Ademola’s work during her time at Oxford helped people question preconceived notions regarding African students and education at Oxford more broadly.

Once obtaining her degree, lady Ademola returned to Nigeria to fulfil her dream of being a teacher. After teaching at a prestigious girls’ school in Lagos, she then founded two new girls’ schools.

She also embarked on a career as a children’s author, writing stories based on the folklore of West Africa.

Throughout her life, Lady Ademola advocated for women’s education and rights and in 1958, she was elected as the first President of Nigeria’s National Council of Women’s Societies.

She was the first Nigerian woman to be appointed Secretary of the Western Region Scholarship Board, a department within the Ministry of Education and also became the Director of the Western Region of the Red Cross.

In 1959, Lady Ademola was awarded an MBE in Britain and an Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) in Nigeria.

To commemorate the impressive achievements of Lady Ademola, St Hugh’s College unveiled a picture of her in March 2020 as well as launching a fund in her honour to support black graduate students.