Gender, Race and Class at Work: Enlisting African Health Labour into the Gold Coast Medical Service, 1860–1957

Article Summary by Lucky Tomdi

This article is part of an ongoing project that examines the historical roles and experiences of African health workers in Ghana during the late 19th and 20th centuries. It examines how gender, race, and class shaped the participation of Africans in colonial and Christian missionary biomedical services from 1860 to 1957. I focus on how European and African gendered ideologies, racial discrimination, and class differences influenced the recruitment and training of Africans into early colonial and missionary medical services. The expansion of biomedical services led to the enlistment of Africans, but recruitment occurred within racial and gendered boundaries. European gendered ideologies about African women and African traditional gender norms worked to marginalise women’s involvement in the biomedical service. African men dominated the occupational categories of doctors, orderlies, dispensers, nurses, and midwives until the 1940s when more women began to enter the medical service. Also, recruiting Africans into the colonial medical service was necessary to augment insufficient European staffing across many occupations, but not to the same rank and class. The relationship between African and European medical staff, and colonial administrators in the Gold Coast Medical Department from the 1890s shows the existence of racial discrimination largely based on physical appearance and intellectualism from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries. This research identifies the pathways to the formalised and contemporary structure of biomedical health professions in Ghana.


Read the full article on the Medical Humanities journal website.


Lucky Tomdi is a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. His research interest is in the history of health, medicine, science, race, and gender with a focus on the development of health systems, professions, and patient care. His current research looks at the professionalization of African health labour within colonial and Christian missionary biomedical health infrastructures over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Ghana (formerly the Gold Coast). This project examines the silenced roles, agency, and contributions of Africans who across intersectional categories worked to sustain biomedical healthcare.

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