THIS WEEK IN HISTORY: ELIZABETH ABIMBOLA AWOLIYI
Dr Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi (1910-1971) was a pacesetter and a pioneer. She was someone who proved time and again that women can do it too. She was the first female physician in Nigeria. She even pioneered the jápa agenda as the first West African female doctor to be awarded a licentiate of Royal Surgeon in Dublin. She was the second West African woman to train and qualify in orthodox Medicine after Dr Agnes Yewande Savage. She was also the second president of the National Council of Women’s Societies of Nigeria.
Born on 11th November 1910, in Lagos Island, Nigeria, Dr Elizabeth Awoliyi had her primary school education at St. Mary’s Catholic School, Lagos, then proceeded to Queen’s College, Lagos for her secondary school education. She left Nigeria for Dublin, Ireland in 1929 to study Medicine. She earned her medical degree in 1938 from the University of Dublin, Cafreys College. She graduated from the University of Dublin with first-class honours, winning a medal in Medicine and a distinction in Human Anatomy. She consequently became the first woman in West Africa to be awarded a licentiate of Royal Surgeon, Dublin.
Dr Elizabeth Awoliyi returned to Nigeria, where she worked as a gynaecologist and junior medical officer at the Massey Street Hospital, Lagos. She later became a Chief Consultant Gynaecologist in the same hospital and was the Medical Director for about ten years (1960-1969). She was appointed senior specialist gynaecologist and obstetrician by the Federal Ministry of Health, Nigeria, in 1962.
Dr Awoliyi was not limited to Medicine. She was also a shrewd businesswoman, owning a 27-acre poultry and orange farm in Agege, Lagos state. Indeed, no be today Nigerians don dey get side hustle.
Apart from being an outstanding doctor and businesswoman, Dr Elizabeth Awoliyi was also a great leader and philanthropist. She was a member and leader at several professional and charity organizations. She was the pioneer president of the Lagos branch of the National Council of Women Societies (NCWS) and a member of the national committee of the organization. She made tremendous contributions as a member and also negotiated for the gift of a national headquarters at the Tafawa Balewa Square. She was a consultant to the NCWS family planning clinic, which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of Nigeria. She became the second president of the NCWS in 1964, succeeding Kofo Aina Ademola. She served in several other organizations including, the Child Care Voluntary Association where she was President, the Business and Professional Women’s Association and the Parish Women Council of the Holy Cross Cathedral, Lagos, becoming the first President of the council. She was also an active member of the Lagos Colony Red Cross and the Motherless Babies Home Governing Council of Nigeria.
Dr Elizabeth Awoliyi received several awards including, Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE), Ìyá Àbíyè of Lagos, Ìyálájé of Oyo Empire and a Nigerian National Honor – Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR).
Dr Elizabeth Awoliyi was married to Dr S.O. Awoliyi, and the couple had two children. She died on 14th September 1971 at the age of 61, but her legacy lives on. Nigeria now boasts of several female physicians who have contributed to the improvement of the Nigerian healthcare sector. We are grateful for and continually celebrate women like Dr Elizabeth Abimbola Awoliyi, who pioneered and encouraged women involvement in previously male-dominated spheres.