PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
Frances Claudia Wright
First Sierra Leonean woman to be called to the bar and the first woman to practice law in her country
By Ire Fagbemi
Frances Claudia Wright was the first Sierra Leonean woman to be called to the bar and the first woman to practice law in her country. She was born as Frances Claudia Wright on March 5, 1919, in Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone. Wright came from a line of lawyers, following her grandfather and father who were both lawyers. She was the youngest of three children and she passed on April 2, 2010 at the age of 91.
At age 9, Wright was sent to Bedford School in Bedford, England. She took up law reluctantly so as not to disappoint her father after her older brother went into dentistry. She was called to the bar in 1943 at London’s Gray’s Inn at age 24. Soon after, she returned to Sierra Leone.
Upon her return to Sierra Leone, she took over the Gloucester Street Law Office in Freetown that was previously owned by her father and her grandfather before him. There, she established a chamber of women lawyers which went on to represent some of the largest companies operating in the country. In addition to this corporate practice, she established herself in family law and gained an impressive reputation in this practice area. Later on, Wright also worked as the legal adviser to the British High Commission in Freetown.
In 1968, in the unstable years that followed the country’s independence from Great Britain, Wright took an active role in the political sphere. As president of the Sierra Leonean Bar Association, she led a protest against the regime of Brigadier Andre Juxon-Smith who had failed to commit the country to civilian rule. Ultimately, the instability in Sierra Leone pushed Wright to return to England. She continued her legal work and was recognized as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire by the Queen for her legal services- a fact her family only just discovered after her death. The recognition is a British order of chivalry that rewards contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organizations, and public service outside the civil service.
In 1991, she retired from practicing law, and settled in South Kensington, London, surrounded by friends and colleagues.
Frances Wright is truly a pioneer woman. She was the first Sierra Leonean woman to be called to the bar and the first woman to practice law in her country. She introduced women to a male dominated profession and served as an inspiration for women to strive for positions or jobs that were not previously open to them.
Wright was able to carve out a great reputation practicing family law, an area of law that was typically overlooked in Sierra Leone, as it was not taken seriously by her male colleagues.
She has often been referred to as “West Africa’s Portia” as she had a reputation for her impeccable honesty and discretion. She was recognized for her willingness to take on controversial cases and championing the rights of women at a time when they were often left unrepresented in domestic and land disputes. Frances Wright was a trailblazer for women in Sierra Leone and around the world and should be considered a pioneer woman in law.