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Ghana Studies v.7 (2004) pp. 43-58. KORLE BU AND THE MIDWIVES HOSTEL AS A SITE OF MEMORY FOR GHANAIAN PUPIL MIDWIVES, 1930S-1950S Anne Hugon Institut Universitaire de France n 1999 I started a research project dealing with the history of colonial maternity in Ghana, mostly focusing on the medicalisation of pregnancy and childbearing.1 The training of Ghanaian midwives had been an important part of this scheme and when I discovered that a good number of those who had been trained from the 1930s to the early 1950s were still alive, I decided to try and interview them. All in all, I was lucky to be able to interview 30 retired Ghanaian midwives, who were thus transformed into “oral historians”: this paper is based on these interviews.2 I knew from archival work and secondary sources that the Maternity Hospital had opened in 1928, 5 years after the opening of Korle Bu Hospital, a lapse of time which shows that the medicalisation of pregnancy and childbirth or the reduction of maternity and infant mortality rates were not a high priority amongst colonial officials, despite their claims.3 I had also learnt, from the National Archives, that by 1936, five years after the first batch of Ghanaian midwives got their certificates, a Midwives Hostel had been completed, to accommodate boarding pupils who were to spend three years amongst fellow pupils in a women-only environment and with little contact with the outside world.4 What I didn’t know was what kind of recollections midwives would have of their training years and little did I suspect the importance that the Maternity Hospital and the Midwives Hostel (both of which I will refer to hereafter as “Korle Bu”) would have in the conversations we had together – so much so that it was sometimes hard to lead them to explore other topics, as if their memory had literally crystallised around these training years. I was puzzled by the salience and importance of Korle Bu in their narratives. Another striking feature of these recollections was that they were extremely contradictory. Not only did informants contradict each other—which was not unexpected—but, more surprisingly, a single interview sometimes revealed conflicting memories of a midwife’s training years. In this paper I will endeavour to make sense of these I ANNE HUGON 44 contradictory recollections, which tell us much about colonialism, the forming of an “esprit de corps,” and the rise of a group of young women professionals.5 I will argue that boarding was essential to the process by which the Hostel and the Maternity Hospital became sites of somewhat conflicting yet crucial memory for the first generation of Ghanaian midwives. The Midwives’ Hostel remembered as a convent or a barracks In each interview I asked a few questions about the informants’ recollections of the Maternity Hospital, the Midwives’ Hostel, and the institution’s regime and atmosphere. When asked about the attitude of their teachers towards them, all midwives vividly remembered being bossed around, although they put it in other terms. One or two of their teachers appear in recollections as formidable characters, instructors such as Sister Luscombe, the Matron in charge of the Maternity Hospital who ruled over the institution for nearly 30 years, or Dr. Lawlor, the Director of the Maternity Hospital from 1931 to 1942. Sister Luscombe and Dr. Lawlor, after whom one of the wards was named, remained in the midwives’ memories as rather frightening—almost dragon-like—figures. It is interesting to note the kind of vocabulary the interviewees used when describing these two characters, always in the context of discipline, strictness, even harshness. “Strict” was definitely the most recurrent adjective, followed by such terms as “harsh,” “stern,” “hard,” “staid and steady,” and “a strong disciplinarian”. The whole semantic field of discipline was used.6 Interview with Florence Ntim-Adu (25 May 2000): Do you remember their names? Who were the British Sisters? One… Miss Luscombe Yes, I’ve heard the name. Was she a nice person? No, no, no, no! She wasn’t nothing at all! She was stern!!! [I laugh] Really? Yes, she was stern. Like, very strict, or… Yes, strict! Strict, really! Interview...


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