Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Chadwick, Jane Elizabeth

Anglican Communion
Kenya , Uganda


Butere Girls High School is an Anglican Church institution at Butere, in western Kenya. In its’ prime, it was only second to the Alliance Girls High School which, in any case, benefited from the fact that it was interdenominational and had a national constituency. When higher education for girls was discussed in 1951-1952 (in the context of the Anglican Church in Kenya), the schools in question were those at Butere, Ng’iya, Kahuhia, Wusi, and Kabete. After some streamlining, Butere Girls High School became an excellent institution, comparable to such Anglican Girls Schools as Gayaza in Uganda, and St. Anne’s, Ibadan, in Nigeria. Having benefited from the discussions, Butere became the second ranked African Girls High School in Kenya in early 1957. [1]

Butere Girls became so successful academically that for many years, its alumna (known as “Old Girls”) distinguished themselves by consistently reaching the highest levels in their chosen careers. Topping the roster of pioneer African women judges in Kenya are Butere “Old Girls” Justice Effie Owuor and Justice Joyce Aluoch, the latter also being the first Kenyan judge at the International Criminal Court (ICC). The first female Kenyan bank manager, Dr. Mary Okelo, who now owns and directs the high ranking Makini schools, is another outstanding alumnus. Among many other representative premier personalities is Prof. Norah Olembo, a globally renowned research scientist, with distinguished service on the Kenyan scene. Still others include: Mrs. Elizabeth Masiga, the first woman to serve as chief inspector of schools, director of education, and permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education; Professor Florida Karani, a fellow native of Bunyore and a high school classmate of Masiga at Butere, who was the first woman deputy vice-chancellor in public university education in Kenya, and is now at Maseno as the first woman chancellor; Dr. Alice Owano, another classmate, who has held an envied position for decades as a premier researcher in education, and Dr. Truphosa Otindo, also from Bunyore, who retired after serving for many years as the deputy director of Veterinary Services in Kenya. It must be emphasized that these are only a few representative examples. [2]

When Butere Girls was elevated to the status of high school, it was simply continuing to build on the foundation which had been laid in 1916 by Miss Jane Elizabeth Chadwick. After pioneering the education of girls at Butere, Chadwick continued to apply herself faithfully and thoroughly, and even by the standards of the early 19th century, those who came through her school were adjudged to be the most advanced girls in the whole of western Kenya at that time. Whatever else she may have accomplished during the period of her missionary service in western Kenya, the establishment and early development of Butere Girls will forever remain her greatest and most lasting contribution, as it was the central focus of her missionary service in Kenya.

Birth and family background

Jane Elizabeth Chadwick was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1869. She was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. George Alexander Chadwick, the Rt. Rev. Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, in Ireland. She was an older sister to Archdeacon Walter Chadwick, who also served under the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Uganda and western Kenya. After having worked separately and in different places than her brother in Uganda, she moved to Kenya and worked under him.

Among pioneer missionary women to Uganda

Chadwick first offered herself for missionary service with the CMS in 1892, but was turned down because she was considered to be too young for the enterprise. Undeterred, she applied again in 1895, and on April 2 of that year, she was accepted. On May 18, she was sent out by the CMS with four others as the first party of women missionaries with the Uganda Mission. Apart from Chadwick, this group of five pioneer women included: Miss Browne, Miss Thomsett, Miss Furley, and Miss Pilgrim.

After her arrival in Uganda, Chadwick first worked in the mission’s central area of Mengo, Buganda, and then in Bunyoro. In 1907, however, she left the mission, only to rejoin in 1910, when she was once more posted to Mengo. In the meantime, her brother, Rev. Walter Chadwick, who had been a CMS missionary in Uganda since 1901, was sent to western Kenya. He opened a mission station at Butere in July of 1912 to represent the CMS work in the Luyia hinterland.

The founding of Butere Girls School

In April of 1916, Chadwick was transferred from Mengo to Butere, to work under her younger brother. However unusual this transfer may have been, its true importance lay in the tremendous positive impact it had on the education of women at Butere. In the early days of the mission there, one of the more encouraging features of CMS work was the education of girls. This came about because Chadwick gave it serious attention from the beginning and throughout her working life there.

She began the work as soon as she settled in Butere. Conducted on a commuter basis, the school was attended mostly by girls from the immediate community, with the initial classes being held in the mornings only. From the beginning, she realized that she could not handle all the work that had been entrusted to her. Accordingly, she secured a Muganda woman to assist her, and as the work increased, she had another female assistant brought over from Uganda.

Two pupils named Mapesa and Lydia Kitandi distinguished themselves early on. Their influence was such that Chadwick observed, “as time went on a group of young girls from all along that road attached themselves to the first two so that they made quite an addition to my flock.” [3] Kitandi and Mapesa made rapid progress and were also among the earliest female catechumens in the area. In fact Kitandi made so much progress that when the amount of teaching proved to be too much for Chadwick and the Baganda teachers, she was among the seven indigenous ladies selected to serve as pupil-teachers. This meant that Chadwick served as the founder and head and that, apart from being assisted by two Baganda teachers as the core staff, the school co-opted seven of the top girls, including Kitandi and Mapesa, as teaching assistants.

In the initial stages the school curriculum was simple and straightforward, and reading and writing dominated the timetable. In time more classes were added: sewing, drawing, hymn-singing, drills, music, the catechism, and Bible lessons. Sewing turned out to be the most popular, and measures had to be taken to regulate it so that it would not overshadow other aspects of the school program.

Numerically, the fortunes of the school fluctuated very much in this early period. Within two months of the school’s opening, there were as many as fifty pupils, but growth was stalled temporarily on account of smallpox in the area. Commenting on this interruption, Chadwick pointed out that although the epidemic was not as bad in their area as it was in Kisumu to the south, “Still that, and the quarantine regulations connected with it, and the harvesting season just on, have caused a rapid drop in my school from over fifty last month to sixteen yesterday!” [4] In November of 1916, when a celebration marking six months of the school’s existence was held, the core group present was “the couple of dozen girls who have been faithfully coming to school during all these rather difficult months.” [5] On that occasion, a group numbering almost as many as those who were inside, was observing the proceedings from outside.

Progression under difficulties in a period of war

The numbers picked up at the beginning of 1917 when it was noted that although it was harvesting time, the average attendance had risen to somewhere between fifty or sixty. When all seemed to be going well, there was a major draft of many young men from the area who were to join the Carrier Corps in German East Africa or Tanzania, which was the main theater of the war. It was this demand for manpower for the First World War which was the main cause for the reduced numbers. Writing about this at that time, Chadwick explained,

I am afraid we don’t get up to eighty-five on week-days now, after the very big draft of young men was called up at the beginning of April. Our numbers have dropped greatly, as the carrying of food to the quarantine camp a few miles out fell heavily on the youngsters of the tribe besides a lot of extra farm work, so for a couple of weeks we came down to 30 and have crawled up again from that to 60 or 65 a couple of days last week, with anything from 100 to 200 on Sundays. [6]

This was true in the days immediately after the major draft, when it was noted that, “Upon the women, therefore, had devolved more and more of the work of the land, so that school and baptism classes had been sorely depleted.” [7] Once those who remained behind had found their equilibrium, however, there was an increase in the numbers of people coming to school. Of this, Chadwick said, “the girls, with fewer men to cook and work for at home, came in increasing numbers to learn; especially on Sundays we often had more than three hundred in the Girls Sunday-school alone.” [8] With this trend of steady growth and progress, there were occasions in early 1918 when as many as 115 pupils turned up some days, with an average of forty to fifty married women.

Even after the end of the war, it took a long time for the school to pick up effectively and regain the level and momentum which it had attained in the pre-war period. Recovery would have been faster if the post-war time had not been accompanied by new complications. First, the troops that returned “brought with them virulent forms of malaria and dysentery which led to heavy mortality in the area.” [9] Secondly, there were outbreaks of smallpox and plague which had a devastating effect on the surrounding communities. The combined damage inflicted by these diseases destabilized regular living patterns, and famine ensued. The struggle against disease and famine slowed down all community activities and once again, attendance was reduced drastically. Chadwick noted this in saying,

Meanwhile, partly through illness and partly through stress of agricultural work, the school is down to half what it was a few weeks ago. The people are straggling here from five surrounding tribes to look for food, and some are dying by the roadside. [10]

The fact that the girls and women were being educated while the young men were away at war meant that by the time the men came back, many of them had received the fundamentals of the education that was prevalent at the time. At the end of the war the men returned to their homes imbued with a deep thirst for learning. As some of them had lamps and lanterns, they devised “a scheme in which they used the pupil-teachers from the girls’ school in independently started ‘night classes, fifteen or twenty youths to each lamp, and some of these carried on up to 3:00 a.m.’” [11] Consequently, the pupil-teachers would become drowsy during the day, and alternate arrangements had to be made to educate the men. Male catechists took over the work “and the girls were told only to teach by day-light in the kraals.” [12] In this way, the war had brought the two strands of education together, albeit unofficially and momentarily.

Retirement and death

After a long career in education, Chadwick finally retired and went back home to Britain. She passed away in Armagh, Ireland in February of 1940, at the age of seventy-one.

Conclusion and commendation

As in many other cases where a mission’s overall policy was not clearly in evidence, progress in work depended largely on the ingenuity of those in charge of the various tasks. It is in this sense that it can be argued that the success of Butere Girls School in the early period was due to the indefatigable efforts of Chadwick, the two Baganda teachers, Lebeka and Damali, and her local pupil-teachers. Because of the solid foundation that she laid, long after her departure and even after her death, it could be shown that the leading women in the area in which she operated were those who had been educated in her school many years earlier.

Whatever else she did in the area, her life was tied to Butere Girls and Butere Girls was tied to her life. This is why her greatest legacy is embodied in the leading institution of Butere Girls High School in its totality, as well as in the exceptional “Old Girls” who have come from it. While others took over and were able to steer the school through the glorious years of its history from the 1950s through the 1970s and beyond, she still retains the honor of being the foundational pillar. As it has been appropriately summarized by Elizabeth Richards, “All development in girls’ education stems from the faithful, thorough work organized in the first place by Miss Chadwick.” [13]

Although this biography has concentrated on the distinctive role of Chadwick at Butere Girls, it is important to realize that there were many other aspects of her life in general, and of her missionary career at Butere, in particular. It is therefore fitting that we conclude this short text about someone who was fondly valued as “a perfect friend,” with a broader reflection:

Chadwick herself must have been an unusual person, even for those days. She was a gifted teacher, musician, and linguist. Her letters, practical, matter-of-fact, astringent, read sometimes like pages from Jane Austen herself, a Jane Austen if one can imagine it, in a tropical setting. Indeed Jane Austen was one of the authors, like Charles Dickens, to whom she turned last thing in the evenings when she was not too tired with her many mission duties. Her personality, vigorous, energetic, lively, breaks through this epistolary summary of her doings. [14]

Watson Omolukoli

End Notes:

  1. There two principal sources relied upon in the writing of this brief biographical sketch. The first was Watson Omulokoli’s The Historical Development of the Anglican Church Among Abaluyia, 1905-1955, unpublished Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) thesis, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, Scotland 1981. The second was Elizabeth Richards’ Fifty Years in Nyanza [western Kenya] Province, Kenya, (Maseno, Kenya: Nyanza Jubilee Committee, 1956). Additionally, Mrs. Fran Etemesi, of the African Institute for Contemporary Mission and Research (AICMAR), was extremely helpful in providing valuable in formation.

  2. Gleaned from personal knowledge over the years, available biographical information and curriculum vitae, and interaction with Dr. Mary Okelo of Makini Schools, and Mrs. Margaret Akhahenda of San Antonio, Texas, USA.

  3. Elizabeth Chadwick, “Early Years in the Mission,” Chapter 10. Church Missionary Society Archives (CMSA).

  4. Chadwick to Magowan, Butere, July 22, 1916, CMSA.

  5. Chadwick to Magowan, Butere, November 2, 1916, CMSA.

  6. Chadwick to Magowan, Butere, August 5, 1917, CMSA.

  7. Elizabeth Richards, Fifty Years in Nyanza, 34.

  8. Elizabeth Chadwick, “Early Years in the Mission,” Chapter 10, CMSA.

  9. Richards, Fifty Years in Nyanza, 34.

  10. Ibid.

  11. Elizabeth Chadwick, “Early Years in the Mission,” Chapter 10, CMSA.

  12. Ibid.

  13. Richards, Fifty Years in Nyanza, 37.

  14. Ibid.

This article, which was received in 2011, was written and researched by Rev. Prof. Rev. Prof. Watson Omulokoli, Professor of Church History, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, Kenyatta University, Kenya; Adjunct Professor, Akrofi-Christaller Institute, Accra, Ghana; and Chancellor, Africa International University, Nairobi, Kenya., and a recipient of the Project Luke Scholarship for 2010-2011.