MRS. HANNAH CUDJOE (nee Dadson) was a household name in the mid 50s and early 60s because she was popularly known for her campaign against nudity in certain parts of the country. She was also the first woman to set up day nurseries and day care centers throughout the country. She was among the first women political activists and agitators for independence.
Mrs. Cudjoe was born in December 1918. She was the 10th of her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dadson of Busua, near Dixcove, in the Ahanta District of the Western Province. By the customary practices of the area she should have been done away with at birth since she was a tenth born. Badu was a taboo, a bad omen, unacceptable and should not see the light of day.
However, she was fortunate that her enlightened and civilized parents took the risk to keep her and even named her Esi Badu.
At a time when few girls went to school she had the privilege of being sent to school age. She started her elementary education at Busua Methodist School and completed at Sekondi Methodist School.
On completion of her Elementary Education she obtained the Standard Seven Certificate which was a rare accomplishment for a girl in her area in those days. She was interested in dressmaking and therefore got herself attached to a prominent dressmaker as an apprentice to learn the profession for three years.
After she had completed her course in dressmaking, she continued to work with her mistress, the professional prominent dressmaker for a while. She then set up her own dressmaking shop and became an accomplished dressmaker at Tarkwa. In no time she became a popular dressmaker in the town and many apprentices where brought to her to train them in the profession. While at Tarkwa she got married to Mr. J.C. Cudjoe, a manager of one of the mining companies, unfortunately the marriage broke down. She however, kept her marriage name, Mrs. Hannah Cudjo.
She continued her work as a dressmaker until she got involved in the politics of the day. Her brother, Mr. Emmanuel Dadson, a very popular actor and printer in Tarkwa, was a prominent member of the United Gold coast Convention in the town and involved her sister in the organization as women’s organizer of the United Gold Cold Convention. This brought her into contact and presence of all the leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention whenever they visited Tarkwa. She met Paa Grant, Dr. J.B. Danquah, Lawyer R.S. Blay, Lawyer Awoonor-Williams, Dr. J.W. de Graft Johnson, and most of the leadership of UGCC. They made very deep impression on her and she totally embraced the mass movement as one of its loyal and devoted disciples.
When Dr. Kwame Nkrumah arrived in the Gold Coast in December, 1947 to take over from Dr. J.W. de Graft Johnson as the General Secretary of the UGCC, one of the first places he visited was Tarkwa. She met him in the company of his brother, Mr. Emmanuel Dadson, Mr. Ackah-Watson and the whole branch of the UGCC leaders in Tarkwa. Dr. Nkrumah charmed her, and from then work as a dressmaker to become a full time political activist in the UGCC movement. Her one desire as Dr. Nkrumah pontificated to her at that meeting was to liberate her country, Gold Coast, from the shackles of imperialism and colonialism.
In March 1948 when the Big Six of UGCC were arrested, she really got “mad” and now abandoned her work all together. She went round the whole township of Tarkwa and its environs to raise funds and organize demonstrations for their release. She shocked the whole Tarkwa community by her unprecedented political activism. The white managers of the mines, the white Police Chief and the District Commissioner of Tarkwa could not believe what they saw. They found in her a hot potato and a fire brand too hot to handle. So in spite of her breach of the law they left her alone.
By the grace of God the Big Six were released in April 1948 to her great relief and joy. There was no doubt that her fight for their release made a great impact on the minds of the people of Tarkwa that they had in their midst Hean d’Are.
When Dr. Nkrumah hit the road on an extensive tour throughout the colony Ashanti and the Northern Protectorate to preach the UGCC message for independence, open branches and got people interested in joining the movement, Mrs. Cudjoe was always in his entourage. She thus got to know the country very well and was shocked with what she saw in the countryside and the interior of the country, especially in the Northern Protectorate. Nudity hit hard in the face and she decided to do something about it. Between April 1948 and June 1949 the General Secretary of UGCC formed a Committee of Youth Organisation with Mr. K.A. Gbedemah as Chairman and Mr. Kojo Botio as Secretary.
The C.Y.O. as it was popularly known became the Youth Wing of the movement. Needles to say he mentor, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, made Mrs. Cudjoe join the CY.O. to organize the young women as active members of the youth group. She spent most of her time and energy in the work of the C.Y.O. at Tarkwa when it was decided to form the Convention People’s Party to finalise the split between the conservatives and the radicals within the UGCC.
Mrs. Cudjoe was at Saltpond when the CPP was formed, and followed Dr. Nkrumah to Accra where the party was officially launched at the Arena on June 12, 1949. She remained within the CPP in its various forms from the day it was formed till the day she departed from this world. She held various leadership positions within the party hierarchy to organize massive support of women for the party and also champion the cause of women and children. She endeared herself to the party leaders and members by concentrating on the above noble causes; she never sought for any Ministerial, Parliamentary or other lucrative and prestigious position.
Mrs. Cudjo persuaded Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP leaders to provide her with the necessary funds, logistics and support to enable her to travel up north to fight nudity among women and children. She got loads of second hand clothes, mostly from abroad, and sent them up north. She then led a group of social workers and members of her women’s league to the north and spent months on end to personally supervise the distribution of the clothes. She came up against traditional taboos and customs which she had to overcome. This, she did by tact and diplomacy by educating and convincing the chiefs and the people of the necessity for the women and children to be clothed.
Whenever she jumped over the hurdle she and her social workers provided the nudists with secondhand clothes free of charge. To maintain and sustain her God inspired mission she paid frequent visits to ensure that the practice of nudity was abolished. From the mid 50s to the early 60s Mrs. Cudjo lived most of the time in the north to carry out her fight against nudity. Her sustained efforts paid off. It was a huge success. Her background as a Badu, a taboo who in God’s mercy was allowed to survive in this world, fired her imagination to identify herself with a similar taboo, custom, and tradition which could not be allowed to survive in the 20th century.
Her passion to eradicate nudity gave her the patience, words and meditation, acceptable to the chiefs and people in the area to come around to her point of view to embrace the project in toto. The fruits of her labour not only abolished nudity but also created a new mode of trade in this country, the import and sale of second hand clothes which exist as of today and it is glorified with a new name “Bend down Boutique”.
Mrs. Cudjoe, the great social worker and founder of the Ghana Women’s League simultaneously with her work in the north organized and galvanized the women in the country to make them politically conscious of their right to participate in national affairs and take part actively in the struggle for independence for the country Several Women Organizations emerged for the same purpose. Thus at the time of independence in 1957 the women’s role in the struggle, was equal to that of men.
Some of them were rewarded by being given ministerial posts, and special parliamentary seats were created to admit ten of them into parliament by nomination. Others sought and were given seats on board of Government and Public Corporations. Mrs. Hannah Cudjoe shunned all these high profile political posts and concentrated on her social work for women, children, needy and disadvantaged persons.
Mrs. Cudjoe and her women’s organizations established Day Care Centers and Day Nurseries throughout the country. For this she became the National Organiser of Day Care Centers and Day Nurseries. She and her group of social workers, officials of the women’s league and education officers made extensive trips round the towns and cities to open Day Care Centers, and Nursery schools, provide amenities and tools for work for them. They recruited teachers, attendants, cooks, watchmen, labourers, etc, for the centers. The infants learnt the rudiments of English, Local Languages and Arithmetic. They were provided with at least one good meal a day free of charge. The success of these experiments in the towns extended to the villages.
To ensure that they were properly run, and the enthusiasm with which they were embraced initially was maintained, she sent inspectors around and when time permitted she personally visited most of the centers, and had, one on one interaction with them,.
He Day Care Centers and Nurseries which began as free and public entities are the forerunners and precursors of today’s fee paying private crèches and nursery schools which have mushroomed all over the country. It is interesting to note that Mrs. Cudjoe has bequeathed to us a great legacy and that her pioneering work is still with us today.
It was therefore no wonder that her good works were rewarded by being elected the Secretary General of All African Women’s League, to spread the gospel according to Hannah Cudjoe to the whole of Africa. Mrs. Cudjoe was a great Patriot, Selfless, Hardworking and Passionate about the total well being of women, children, the disadvantaged, the oppressed, the illiterate, the lost and the needy. To Mrs. Cudjoe alias Esi Badu Dadson, the social worker and political activist, we say Ayekoo. Her name shall live forever in the minds and hearts of women and children of this country as well as the North where she abolished nudity.
In some respects, though not a run her work came closer to that of Madam Theresa of Calcutta. She died peacefully in May 1989 and was buried in her home town Busua. Her funeral was more than a state affair, people from all over the country came in their hundreds to the funeral and said farewell to a great pioneer, leader, and visionary.
Daily Graphic - Friday, November 30, 2007 Page: 11