Catalogue of the papers of Barbara Akinyemi, 1938-2000

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

C. Parker


Department of Special Collections
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Papers of Barbara Akinyemi, 1938-2000

Letters and printed papers of Barbara Akinyemi.

Shelfmarks: MSS. Afr. s. 2499/1-3

Extent: 3 shelfmarks
Language of Material: English

Biographical History

Barbara Akinyemi was born 26 May 1914, the daughter of Harold George Powter and his wife, Ethel, née Barnard. She was brought up in Maidstone, Kent. She trained as a nurse at Lewisham Hospital, London, specializing in midwifery and health visiting. During the Second World War, she worked as a nurse in Norwich and Aberdeen. After the war she applied to join the Colonial Nursing Service, and was posted to Nigeria as a health visitor in March 1947. She worked initially in Lagos and was taught Yoruba, the local language, by Olu Akinyemi. During her contract she also worked in Kano and Makurdi. At the end of her contract she returned to England where she met her language teacher again, who was working in London for the Crown Agents. They married in Maidstone, 24 Oct. 1953. They returned to Lagos in 1958 and lived in the hospital compound, where her husband was head of the hospital administration. Barbara continued her medical work in private clinics and also did voluntary work at the Cheshire Home. She was a founder member of the West African Book Club, which was established in 1982, and an early member of Nigerwives, an organisation for foreign wives of Nigerian men.

Scope and Content

Letters to her parents from war-time Britain, and later from Colonial Nigeria, with printed papers from post-colonial Nigeria.


Letters to her parents were donated by Barbara Akinyemi, 16 Mar. 2001. Newsletters and other memorabilia were donated by Barbara Akinyemi, 17 Feb. 2001.

Related Material

See also MSS. Afr. s. 2216 for her diary written whilst she was a health visitor in Lagos and Makurdi, Nigeria, 1947-8 and 1952.

See also MSS. Afr. s. 1872/002 for her memorandum on her service as a health visitor in Nigeria, 1947-51, with a related letter and press-cutting.

Preferred Form of Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Library [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MSS. Afr. s. 2499/1, fols. 1-2].

Personal names (NCA Rules)

Akinyemi | Barbara | née Powter | b 1914 | nurse

Place names (NCA Rules)


Subjects (LCSH)

World War, 1939-1945--Great Britain--Norwich
World War, 1939-1945--Great Britain--Aberdeen
Community health services--Nigeria

Descriptive List

Letters to her parents
Date: 1938-c.1970
Shelfmark: MSS. Afr. s. 2499/1
Extent: 159 leaves

Scope and Content:


  • (fols. 1-109) letters written whilst training as a nurse in London, and later whilst working as a qualified nurse in Norwich and Aberdeen during the Second World War, 1938-44, comprising:
    • (fols. 1-8) letters written from London where she was training as a nurse at Lewisham Hospital and on a midwifery placement in Poplar, East London, 1938-9
    • (fols. 9-72) letters written from Norwich where she worked as a nurse, containing descriptions of her work and social life under war-time conditions, and accounts of the air-raids, including the 'Baedeker' raids, and her work at first-aid posts, 1940-42
    • (fols. 73-109) letters written from Aberdeen, where she was working as a nurse, containing descriptions of her work, social life, living conditions and air-raids, 1942-4
  • (fols. 110-55) letters written whilst working as a health visitor in Nigeria, 1949-53, comprising:
    • (fols. 110-24) letters written from Kano, Nigeria, describing the poor administration and the many obstructions that she faced in her work, 1949-50
    • (fols. 125-54) letters written from Makurdi, Benue State, Nigeria, describing the obstructive attitude of the authorities and her non-existent work-load; also describes preparations for the celebration of the Queen's coronation, Aug. 1952-July 1953
    • (fols. 155) letter from Enugu, Nigeria, July 1953
  • (fols. 156-8) letter written from Lagos, Nigeria, where she was living with her husband, Olu, [c.1970]

'Nigerwives', newsletter of the Nigerwives organization
Date: May 1983-Mar. 1999
Shelfmark: MSS. Afr. s. 2499/2

Scope and Content:

Nigerwives was founded in 1979, 'to assist in the integration of foreign wives of Nigerians into Nigerian society'. The monthly newsletter was started in 1981. Barbara Akinyemi was a member, and a regular contributor to the newsletter. A profile of Barbara is included in the newsletter for May 1998. Some newsletters have been annotated by her, often in red ballpoint.

Memorabilia relating to Nigeria
Date: 1980s-2000
Shelfmark: MSS. Afr. s. 2499/3

Scope and Content:


  • typescript book review by Akinyemi of Stepping Stones by Sylvia Leith Ross, a Niger wife and Secretary to the Board of Education in 1927; with manuscript notes on Leith Ross by Joke Coker, former principal of Queen's College, Lagos; copy letter from Leith Ross to Coker, Jan. 1980; 50th anniversary booklet for Queen's College Lagos, 1977, which contains a tribute to Leith Ross
  • booklet commemorating the lives of Beatrice Ajose, a Niger wife, and her husband, Oladele Ajose, 1988; an obituary for their daughter, Trixie Ajose, who was murdered in 1987; and Barbara Akinyemi's notes on Oladele Ajose, the first Nigerian Medical Officer of Health and her boss when she arrived in Nigeria in 1947
  • Federal Nigeria, 5.3-4 (1962), containing an article on the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, and a manuscript note by Akinyemi on her husband's experiences with corrupt officials whilst working their, 2000
  • typescript account of 'Palm Tuesday' by Akinyemi, describing unrest after a contested election in Lagos, n.d.

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07 November 2011