The first quarter of the 20"' century was a period of much educational awakening
in the Crown Colony of Sierra Leone, which included the capital of Freetown.
Many people of similar religious or cultural leanings came together and lormed different
"Committees of Citizens" having as their goal the opening of schools. Some focused
on the elementary level only, others on an "all age" institution - i.e. kindergarten
through high school. It was in this spirit of educational fervour that the Freetown
Secondary School for Girls (F.S.S,G.),was born.
One of the leaders in the group that established the F.S.S.G., was Miss Hannah Luke,
who had just returned from studying in England. Miss Luke was full of ideas for the
education of young girls, very much along the pattern of her experiences at the Portway
Institute in England, where she had been trained.
Miss Luke put together a group of immediate family members and close friends, to
plan for the establishment of the school that would provide a full and complete educational
environment for girls of all ages, Included in this group was Mrs. Maisie Osora,
the English born wife of a Sierra Leonean Anglican clergyman, Mrs. Osora had been
teaching at the Annie Walsh Memorial School, a secondary school for girls founded
by the Church Missionary Society, the evangelical wing of the Church of England.
With 20 people contributing E25.00 (twenty-five pounds) each, an educatonal vision
became a reality, when on January 20'h 1926, the Freetown Secondary School for Girls
opened its doors in a building at the corner of Garrison and Gloucester Streets (at
the entrance of Victoria Park), with 20 girls as the foundation pupils. Mrs. Osora
was appointed Principal, and Miss Hannah Luke, as Vice Principal. The F. S. S. G.
was for many years, the only school that provided an educational programme from Kindergarten
through Secondary School. This flexibility allowed the school to admit boys in the
nursery and kindergarten departments.
Miss Luke, (who later became Mrs. Benka-Coker when she married a Barrister from the
Gambia), took over the reins as Principal, when Mrs. Osora returned to England during
the upheaval in Europe leading to World War II. Mrs. Benka-Coker emphasized 'African
Culture', and actively recruited pupils from all over West Africa, regardless of
tribal or religious affiliation. Students came from not only The Gambia, but also
The Gold Coast,(now Ghana), and Nigeria. Because of the presence of so many foreign
students, the school also operated a boarding facility, and as a result, more spacious
accommodations became imperative. The then Colonial Governor allowed the school
to occupy unused military buildings at Tower Hill, one of the foothills overlooking
The onset of World War 11 made it necessary for the military to requisition the buildings,
and in 1938, the school was forced to move to less spacious quarters. The new temporary
home was located at Oxford Street between George and Gloucester Streets, almost adjacent
to St. George's Cathedral, the seat of the oldest Anglican Church in West Africa.
This did not allow for dormitories as well as classrooms, and the enrollment dropped
precipitously. The school continued to operate literally on a shoe string, and It
is believed that for many months, the salaries of the teachers were paid by Mrs.
Sarah Luke, the mother of Mrs. Benka-Coker.
Due to the resolve of Mrs. Benka-Coker, and her then Vice Principal Miss Loftie Hazeley,
conditions slowly improved, due in large part to the school's reputation for quality
education and the dedication of the staff. It began acquiring adjacent buildings,
and the enrollment increased in proportion. "My resolve" wrote Mrs. BenkaCoker then,
"God being my helper, is to prepare all pupils, whatever their gifts may be, to use
these gifts towards being more intelligent citizens, to offer their intelligent citizenship,
and work toward the goal of becoming responsible adults, May they continuously develop
intellectually and spiritually toward that ultimate end-complete, responsible citizenship.'
All during this period, Mrs. Benka-Coker's dream was to acquire a permanent home
for her school. As a result of her irrepressible and indomitable spirit, she was
able to secure a long term lease on an unused piece of waterlogged land (commonly
called 'Frog Pond') in the Brookfields area of Freetown. Construction of the school
buildings was financed with a grant of 924,000 from the British Colonial Office,
and loans of L.24,000.
On Easter Monday, April 14th, 1952, the then Governor of Sierra Leone, Sir George
Beresford-Stooke, formally opened the buildings. On this historic occasion, Mrs.
Benka-Coker ended her address (the only one she made at the new school), with the
challenge: "Expupils, this is a heritage I am handing over to you. Are you ready
to receive it?"
Mrs. Hannah Benka-Coker passed away on June 17th, 1952, a mere eight weeks after
realising the culmination of her llfe's work.
As a testament to the character and discipline instilled in the pupils who went through
the school, the Ex-Pupils took up Mrs. BenkaCoker's challenge, and through various
fund raising efforts, a block of six spacious classrooms were added.
Construction of buildings was only one part of the 1950's story of F.S.S.G. This
decade saw the appointment of the first alumnae graduate, Miss Leftie Stuart as Principal,
and the school's academic rating was upgraded.
The 1960's and 1970's witnessed a steady improvement in the quality of education,
and an expansion of the courses offered. A new science block was opened in 1970,
and the school started a post secondary school programme in pure science (chemistry,
biology and physics). This made F.S.S.G. the only girls school in Sierra Leone offering
these courses, and became the magnet school for all girls interested in pursuing
advanced level courses in the sciences.
Because of continuing increasing enrollment, space again became a source of concern,
and the Trustees, after having failed to secure additional land for building, decided
to phase out the elementary department, to allow the secondary school proper to develop
to its maximum potential. The last elementary students took the Selective Entrance
examination for secondary school admission in July, 1978.
The Freetown Secondary School for Girls, Ex-Pupils Association, seeks to first make
a tribute to our benefactors, while at the same time keeping alive the dream of those
who worked so hard to keep our'Alma Mater', going through the last 72 years. We
want to make sure that it is there for the next two hundred and seventy-two years,
providing affordable but quality education. Our fund-raising efforts benefit the
children in the form of school supplies, scholarships, and expansion of the educational