Last month (April 2016) Michael Marten and I visited Mrs Sheila Caldwell – formerly Miss Sheila Cane. In the 1950s, a young geography teacher who had studied at University College London, she was appointed as first Principal of what was to become Yejide Girls Grammar School in Ibadan, Nigeria, a funded Anglican secondary boarding school.
When Sheila Cane made her decision to ‘go out’ to Africa in the 1950s she undoubtedly saw this as giving service – as a school teacher who could help young people less fortunate than herself to get a good education. It was also very clear that she relished the challenge of living and working in different circumstances from the world of her home country. She would of course have taken for granted that part of her responsibility towards the young women selected for the school, was to arrange regular acts of Christian worship. Nevertheless, what she remembered even more distinctly were the difficulties of finding suitable buildings for class rooms or making sure that her school was run along recognisably British lines with proper entrance tests and uniforms but also with due care for poor as well as more wealthy students.
Although now very frail, it is clear that Sheila Caldwell was a dynamic force in her youth and that during the relatively few years – perhaps six or seven – she spent in Africa she had managed to instil high standards and great affection in her students. Some of these students went on to University and have themselves had successful professional careers. One, Professor Biola Odejide (Nee Ayoade) became Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Academic University of Ibadan and another, Gladys Olumbunmi Olateru-Olagbegi (Nee Omitowoju) became Chief Judge of Ondo State. When travelling to the UK more than one of these former pupils took the trouble to contact Mrs Caldwell.
Of course, Miss Cane was not Scottish. However, during the short period she worked in Malawi in the early 1960s, she met her future husband who was Scottish. When she left Malawi she came to live and work in Scotland and very much today, counts this as her home. This raises interesting questions that we intend to explore further in our work about what “being Scottish” means in the missionary context.
Mrs Caldwell exercised a professional skill as a teacher in Nigeria and had to be resourceful and resilient to build a school from scratch even with the support of the already established Boys’ Grammar School. It is unclear at this distance of time though, how her work was valued in ways other than through the appreciation of former pupils. She may have been paid on an equitable basis with other members of staff and given similar opportunities to develop as an educator, but it is equally possible that her male and her Nigerian colleagues would have been treated differently from her – and from each other. Rhonda Semple, for example, has cautioned us not to adopt too ‘romantic’ a view of women’s fulfilled professional freedom in the mission field (Semple, Missionary Women: Gender, Professionalism and the Victorian Idea of Christian Mission, The Boydell Press, 2003).
Finding some way in conditions of inequality still to acknowledge the achievements of women like Sheila Caldwell, we can draw on the idea of women’s capacity for ‘female genius’ (Jasper, Because of Beauvoir: Christianity and the Cultivation of Female Genius, Baylor UP, 2012); that is the capacity women show when they are not immobilized by ‘male normative’ perceptions and evaluation, but cut through this kind of mystification to create on a different basis; to act or think in new ways.