One of the most remarkable women of all time.
Dubbed Great Mother and White Queen of Okoyong’, the legacy of Scottish missionary Mary Mitchell Slessor even after more than a century, still lives on. Driven by the need to impact the world, she established her greatest legacy in Nigeria, combating and abolishing the menace of twin infanticide.
Born into humble beginnings on December 2, 1848, in Gilcomston, Aberdeen, the second of seven children to an alcoholic shoemaker father and a weaver and millworker for a mother, but raised in Dundee, Mary Slessor’s childhood was fraught with hardship. After the death of her father from pneumonia, by the age of 14, she like her mother began working 12 whole hours in a jute mill and eventually took up responsibility as the family breadwinner.
Inspired by her mother’s strong Presbyterian faith and longing to follow the footsteps of famed missionary and explorer David Livingstone to spread Christianity, in 1876, aged 28, the red-haired and blue-eyed Slessor embarked on an unforgettable trip to Nigeria.
In no time, her extroverted and warm personality paving the way, she became immensely involved with the Efik people, teaching Christianity and therefore gaining insights into their way of life; learning their language, and even living with them, this opened her eyes to great injustice against women and the sickening belief dubbing multiple births evil and the newborns, whom one of which was possessed by an evil spirit, deserving of the death sentence as they couldn’t be told apart. Their mother, consequently ostracised from society. She fought boldly and tirelessly, selflessly putting her life on the line and successfully saved 100 hundreds of twins, and even adopted some – even though it was against the rules. She was also noted for fighting for women’s rights and protecting children. In between the many years she spent in Nigeria, Slessor contracted malaria several times and had to go back to her home country Scotland for treatment, undeterred, she would return and continue her mission.
Mary Slessor, a foremost missionary who didn’t just come to dump foreign culture on the people but embrace them as a people, wearing the same clothes, learning and speaking to them their language as well as living beside them, to date is remembered for having stopped the common practice of infanticide of twins in Okoyong, an area of Cross River State, Nigeria and hailed as an uncommon missionary.
In 1892 many thanks to her impact in the community, she became vice-consul in Okoyong, presiding over the native court. In 1905, she was named vice-president of Ikot Obong native court and was awarded the order of St. John of Jerusalem in 1913.
Mary Slessor passed away in 1915 at the age of 66 in Calabar and was given a befitting state funeral. She was buried in Duke Town in Nigeria.
Many years after her death, several monuments have been erected including being honored with various statues as well as roads and streets being named in her honor. In Scotland, a bust of her was erected in the Hall of Heroes of the National Wallace Monument in Stirling, and in 2015, a memorial was unveiled in Dundee marking the 100th anniversary of her death. Mary also appeared in 1997 on Clydesdale Bank’s £10 notes, making history as the first female to land such an honor on a Scottish banknote. The Mary Slessor Foundation established in 2002 still carries on her good work, keeping her legacy alive.