Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Nigerwives and Intersectionality

Nigerwives and Intersectionality

Cornelia Clapp, 1839-1934, Mount Holyoke professor, for Women's History Month

Cornelia Clapp, 1839-1934, Mount Holyoke professor, for Women’s History Month

I read a fascinating interview with a Nigerian writer, Angela Ajayi. Her Yoruba last name interested me. I was also intrigued by the title of the article, “On Cultural Intersectionality and Familial Love.”

Does the word ‘intersectionality’ mean anything to you? I first heard it at the International UU Women’s Convocation. One of the speakers used the term. Is it a new word for connections and meaningful coincidences, or is it more?

The article was on Ainehi Edoro’s blog, Brittle Paper. Ajayi won a prize as an emerging writer.

She won with the story of a Nigerwife who did not stay in Nigeria. The interviewer says,

Your winning story, “Galina,” immerses us in a Ukrainian woman’s relationship with her mother . .  She has ended her marriage to a Nigerian man, has “returned from Nigeria for good,” and has prevented herself from finding love in a second relationship. 

Then she asks,

Galina’s stay in Nigeria is a life of “cultural coagulation that would only result in heartbreak.” Could you tell us more?

The author says,

Without giving away too much of the plot, I’ll say Galina experiences physiological and emotional difficulties while in Nigeria that necessitated such a description. Her relationship with her ex-husband Umaru was unsuccessful, mainly because she couldn’t meet some of the obligations of Nigerian culture.

The interviewer asks why she chose this topic. Ajayi says, “I have always wanted to write about European women like my mother, a Ukrainian, who married African men and moved to African countries. The cultural differences they encountered intrigued me; the character Galina grew out of this intrigue and then later a desire to construct a literary portrait out of this meeting of seemingly disparate cultures.”

I must read the story. The end of the article tells me where to find it. “Read “Galina” in Fifth Wednesday Journal‘s Fall 2016 Issue.

Oxford's Bodleian Library houses papers donated by Nigerwife Barbara Akinyemi

Oxford’s Bodleian Library houses papers donated by Nigerwife Barbara Akinyemi

Nigerwives Papers at Oxford

Nigerwives Lagos Branch published monthly newsletters beginning in the 1980’s. I have sixteen, from 1991 to 2001.

I learned there is a large collection at Oxford Bodleian Library. They were donated by Barbara Akinyemi, an early Nigerwife. The collection also has diaries of her time in Nigeria before she married.

My husband is sure I knew her, and I think I did too, but I can’t picture her. Anyone have a photo?

The editors of the May 1998 newsletter introduced a series of “Profiles of Nigerwives.” Barbara, apparently the oldest Nigerwife at the time, was the first. She went to Nigeria as a nurse in the colonial service in 1947!

Nina Mba wrote the article. She says Barbara, “was the first colonial civil servant to become a Nigerwife.” Barbara’s birthday was celebrated by Nigerwives the next month, when she turned 84. She died a few years later in England.

I wish I’d have time to visit Oxford when I go to England in April for the conference on Biafra. But I don’t. So I’ve written to the staff person at Oxford. She can send me copies. I’ll order a few from years I don’t have. I may use the info in the chapter on Nigerwives. I’ve nearly finished, but could add interesting stories.

Women’s History Month

Steve Clapp, Peace Corps volunteer Nigeria, author, friend, Unitarian

Steve Clapp, Peace Corps volunteer Nigeria, author, friend, Unitarian

Last blog post during Women’s History Month. Instead of choosing someone well-known, I decided to tell you about Cornelia Clapp. I’m choosing her to honor Steve Clapp.

Steve was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nigeria. We became acquainted over the last few years by email, blog, and in person. He died on December 5, 2016 of acute leukemia, within weeks of learning he was ill. His second book, Fixing the Food System, was published just before his death.

When he learned that I was an alum of Mount Holyoke, he delighted in telling me about his relative for whom the Clapp Building was named. He was also, we discovered along the way, a fellow Unitarian.

Steve's book Fixing the Food System, November 2016

Steve’s book Fixing the Food System, November 2016

Cornelia Clapp was an alumna, class of 1871, when the college was still a seminary. She began teaching there in 1872. She was an instructor in gymnastics and mathematics. There’s a piece from the yearbook of 1897 about her.

Wikipedia’s entry about Cornelia Clapp says, “When Mount Holyoke made the transition from seminary to college in 1888, Clapp took a three-year leave in order to obtain a doctorate at the University of Chicago. When she returned to Mount Holyoke, she helped organize the department of zoology, and in 1904 she was named professor of zoology.[10]

Wikipedia also tells me, “Although she was primarily known as an educator and did not author many scientific research papers, she was named in 1906 as being among the 150 most prominent zoologists in the U.S. by the journal American Man of Science.[5]

Clapp Hall at Mount Holyoke College

Clapp Hall at Mount Holyoke College

Don’t you love the name of the journal?

You can read more about the Cornelia Clapp Laboratory, dedicated to her. It was completed in 1924.

In addition to teaching at Mount Holyoke, she was involved in the work at Woods Hole Marine Biological Lab. “She carried on research there, primarily in the field of embryology,” I find at Britannica online.

“She retired as professor emeritus from Mount Holyoke in 1916 but continued for several years to summer at Woods Hole,” Britannica says. She didn’t publish a lot as an academic, but her teaching was legendary. She had an important influence, “to extend scientific knowledge and opportunity to women through education.”

She died in 1934.

Is it ‘intersectionality’ that I write about Clapp because of my Peace Corps connection with Steve, another Unitarian, my daughter had many labs in Clapp, and I blog about Women’s History Month? Enlighten me!

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.

One Comment

  1. Research on Nigerwives sounds fascinating. Thanks for your honor of Steve Clapp by celebrating Cornelia Clapp. I appreciate the link with her bio. I had heard Steve and his mother Ruth talk about her but did not have such a comprehensive understanding of her accomplishments.