Little is known about “West Africa’s Portia” and leaving her out of the festivities of Black History Month is gravely unfair. Therefore, The African Dream is shedding light on one of the most illustrious women in West Africa. A woman who thrived in a male-dominated society against all odds.
Frances Claudia Wright was a prominent Sierra Leonean lawyer during the 20th century. She was born into an established family of lawyers, in Freetown, British Sierra Leone. Her father Claude Wright was called to the bar at the age of 21. Originally from England, he went to Sierra Leone in search of his father. He learnt that his father Claudius Ernest Wright had died, leaving Claude’s half-siblings in debt and poverty. He, therefore, made a conscious decision to settle in the Creole setting of Freetown. Claude set up a law firm and resurrected his father’s Gloucester Street residence. He also served on the legislative council.
Frances’s mother was Eva Smith. She was the outside daughter of Francis Smith who was the second person to officially qualify as a lawyer in Sierra Leone.
In a move to satisfy her father’s wishes to succeed him as a lawyer, Frances Wright got educated at Bedford Girls’ Modern School (now Dame Alice Harpur School), in England and was called to the Bar from Gray’s Inn on 17 November 1941. This was during the heat of the Second World War.
She immediately left for Sierra Leone in 1943. She boarded the SS California, voyaging back to the land of her birth. However, a bolt of aerial lightning was enough to disrupt the journey, causing the ship to sink. Wright narrowly evaded the natural threat but lost all of her valuables including her gown and wig.
Upon arriving at the country she left at the age of 9, she took over the Gloucester Street premises of her father and grandfather before him, a usual family norm. There she established a chamber inclusive of learned feminine figures, legally representing some of the largest companies operating in the country. They also took a keen interest in practising family law, a legal area that was less considered in Sierra Leone.
Wright developed a highly powerful and influential persona in Sierra Leone. Aside from the legal profession, she became an avid overseer of women’s rights and faced more challenging issues which were abominable for her peers to speak on.
In 1968, years after the country’s independence from Great Britain, Frances Claudia Wright led an intense protest against the regime of Brigadier Andrew Juxon-Smith who had failed to revert authority to civilian rule. She was very focal in the rally, expecting that she would be arrested. She also served as the President of the Bar Association.
Following the outbreak of the Civil War in 1991, Wright left for England and settled in South Kensington. She also retired from the law profession. She lived a very quiet life that her family only learnt that she had been awarded an Order of the British Empire recognition after her demise. They found the medal in a box under her bed.
She never married or had any child of her own.
Frances Claudia Wright died on April 2, 2010.