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The Methodist Girls’ High School

Founded in January 1, 1880

The Methodist Girls’ High School celebrated its 140th Anniversary on January 1, 2020. Thanks to members of the Wesleyan Mission Society who foresaw the importance of a girls’ secondary school to complement the boys secondary school, the Wesleyan Boys’ High School, twenty years after it was established in 1860. Talks for this project started in 1879. The Rev. M Godman, General Superintendent, of the Wesleyan Mission Society contacted some Sierra Leonean businessmen, including Rev. James Taylor, treasurer of the District Building and Extension Fund of the Wesleyan Missionary Society to establish the school.

On January 1st, 1880, The Wesleyan Female Educational Institution was inaugurated, with the Rev. James Taylor as the manager.  However, the actual work did not start till January 9, 1880 under the supervision of its first principal, Mrs. E.H.C. Weymouth assisted by several deaconesses of the Methodist Missionary Society.  Due to ill health, her administration was cut short. The school, at that time, was located at Lightfoot Boston Street in Freetown.

In 1901, Rev. James Taylor died after struggling to keep the school afloat for twenty-years. The school was moved to a house at George Street, Freetown donated by Mr. James Macfoy. There were about 130 students from kindergarten to class 10, the highest grade then. In 1905, the Board of Governors decided to hand over the school to the Wesleyan Missionary Society and Mrs. W.T. Balmer, wife of the principal of the Wesleyan Boys’ High School, devoted her time to the improvement of the school which was open to “encourage industry and vision, develop character, improve talents and Christian leadership.” The name of the school was then changed to the Wesleyan Girls’ High School (WGHS).

In 1919, a land was purchased in Wilberforce to ease the building shortage that had plagued the school at its inception. Unfortunately, parents were apprehensive about sending their children to such a ‘far away’ place to school. Students had to go by train. So, when the school moved into its new buildings in 1921 there were only 43 students enrolled, the lowest number ever.

In 1932, the name was, again, changed to the present name Methodist Girls’ High School. A boarding department was added to help with the problem of commuting to and from school. The school was threatened closure because of poor enrollment and uncertain staffing. The principal in 1936, Miss Cairnduff, a deaconess, ‘got down on her knees and prayed for a miracle’. Her prayers were answered with the enrollment of 23 more girls to make a total of 63. The boarding department was closed during the war years as the school was used to billet the military from abroad. In fact, the school was moved into the city during this period.

The school returned permanently to the facilities in Wilberforce at the end of World War II in 1946 and continued to maintain extremely high standard during this period. There was a 100% success of students who sat to the Junior Cambridge Examination administered from England.

In 1953, Miss Jane Olivier arrived in Freetown from England with a 5-year contract as principal. Prior to her arrival, two Sierra Leoneans, Miss Muriel Baana-Davies and Mrs. Efolabi Lewis had acted as principal. As soon as her contract expired, Miss Olivier returned to England.

It was an exciting period for the staff and students at the school when Mrs. Fashu Collier, an alumna was appointed in 1958 as the first permanent Sierra Leonean principal. She had just returned from England where she did her principal’s course. During her tenure, she worked diligently to raise the school’s educational level. In the process, she introduced the proposed commercial department which was most needed at the time.

In 1962, Mrs. Collier seized the opportunity to request a Peace Corp volunteer through the Ministry of Education for the commercial stream of the school. This was soon after United States President John F. Kennedy had just established the Peace Corps Volunteer program through executive order. In September 22, 1961, he signed congressional legislation creating a permanent Peace Corps that would “promote world peace and friendship” through three goals: (1) to help the peoples of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; (2) to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and (3) to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans. Miss Billie-Ann Day (now Dr. Billie-Ann Day) was recruited as Peace Corp volunteer for the Commercial Department of the school. She taught Typing, Accounting, and Bookkeeping for two years, she, apparently, made friends to both teachers and students during her tenure.  Miss Day, eventually, became an embodiment of the goals outlined by President Kennedy for this program.  To this day, Miss Day supports the Methodist Girls’ High School and is friends with a number of past teachers, and the students. Since it was established, the commercial department had produced excellent secretaries and accountants who have served in top government positions and businesses. Students also excelled remarkably in other diversified curriculum throughout their academic career.  We can find MGHS alumnae in all walks of life all over the world. Mrs. Collier retired in 1985 after serving for 28 years. She was succeeded by Mrs. Hannah Kawalley another alumna who continued the good work of her predecessor.

The civil war in the 1990’s disrupted the smooth running of the school, but the school was proud to say that Mrs. Ayo Gilpin-Jackson, an alumna of the Annie Walsh Memorial School, who took over was able to maintain a steady progress.

The result of the war was disruptive to schools in Freetown. Following the war, the Ministry of Education took a major decision and integrated all schools into a two-shift system. Overcrowding classrooms was the main reason. Most people who fled the war and domiciled in Freetown never went back to their homes after the war. Thereafter, the 6-3-3-4 (Six years of primary, three years of secondary (Junior Secondary), three years of secondary (Senior Secondary) and four years of college) was introduced to conform to what has been operating in other West African countries.  Although the schools still maintain the two-shift system, the Ministry is encouraging schools to go back to the one-shift system that was in operation.

The school now has a wide range of Liberal Arts, Science and commercial subjects offered to the more than 2,300 students enrolled. Several extra-curricular activities such as Scripture Union, Girl Guides (first Wilberforce Company), Netball, Volleyball (2005 inter Secondary School Girls’ Champions). The Band is the joint efforts of three international branches, Old Girls’ Associations in London, New York/New Jersey, and Washington DC, though the London branch is responsible for the full complement.

Several blind students from the Sierra Leone School for the Blind have passed through the school of which Ms. Marie Kamara was the pioneer in the early 1970’s. The school is proud that other alumnae can be found in Nigeria, Ghana, The Gambia, England, and Fernando Po. These alumnae and those in other parts of the world are actively engaged in business, teaching, medicine, law, government, the clergy, politics, and improving the life of society. The Alumnae Associations in Sierra Leone, United Kingdom, United States of America, and Canada continue to support the school in an extraordinary way.

We want to thank our current Principals, Mrs. Daisy McEwen at the Senior Secondary School, and Mrs. Mary Jambai at the Junior Secondary School for their hard work, and for continuing the work of their predecessors.   

Long Live the Methodist Girls’ High School – Honour Before Honours

~ Submitted by Gloria Allen – MGHS Alumna