16 December 1932 -25 March 2022
Nigeria’s first female university vice-chancellor and first female doctorate degree holder, Grace Alele-Williams, is dead. A-CHOICES gathered that the retired professor of mathematics education died on Friday 25th of March.
Mrs. Alele-Williams, an educationist, was born on December 16, 1932, in Warri, in the present-day Delta State. The deceased made history when she became the first female vice-chancellor at the University of Benin (UNIBEN), Edo State. She was also the first Nigerian woman to receive a doctorate degree. Mrs. Alele-Williams attended Government School, Warri; Queen’s College, Lagos and the University College, Ibadan, now the University of Ibadan.
Achievements: She has held and served in various capacities. By serving on various committees and boards, Alele-Williams has made useful contributions to the development of education in Nigeria. She was chairman of the curriculum review committee, former Bendel State 1973-1979. From 1979 to 1985, she served as chairman of the Lagos State Curriculum Review Committee and Lagos State Examinations Boards. Her hard work paid off as she was conferred with a Doctorate Degree in Comparative Education from the University of Chicago in March 1963. This made history in Nigeria as she was the first Nigerian female to have a Ph. D Degree. Alele-Williams was a member of the governing council, UNESCO Institute of Education. She is also a consultant to UNESCO and the Institute of International Education Planning. For a decade (1963–73) she was a member of the African Mathematics Programme, located in Newton, Massachusetts, United States. She was also vice-president of the World Organisation for Early Childhood Education and later president of the Nigerian chapter. Alele-Williams has published a book titled Modern Mathematics Handbook for Teachers. After serving as the vice-chancellor of the University of Benin, she joined the board of directors of Chevron-Texaco Nigeria. She is also on the board of HIP Asset Management Company Ltd, an Asset Management Company in Lagos, Nigeria
Legacy: Professor Grace Alele-Williams was a force to reckon with in the dark period of Nigeria’s higher education. Then, the activities of secret cults, confraternities, and societies had spread within the Nigerian Universities, especially at the University of Benin. She made valuable impacts, with a combination of courage, ingenuity, and strategy that the growing tide of cultism was stemmed in the university. A task which many men had failed, she was able to make notable contributions. She has 5 children and 10 grandchildren.
She returned to her alma mater in 1957 to receive a master’s degree in mathematics and her Ph.D. degree in mathematics education at the University of Chicago (U.S.) in 1963, thereby making her the first Nigerian woman to be awarded a doctorate.
Mrs. Alele-Williams returned to Nigeria for a couple of years’ postdoctoral work at the University of Ibadan before joining the University of Lagos in 1965. She was 1985 appointed the vice-chancellor at UNIBEN and held office until 1992.
In a statement, the University of Benin’s spokesperson, Dr. Benedicta Ehanire, said that the current Vice-Chancellor of the institution, Prof Lillian Salami, mourned the passing of her predecessor, on behalf of the university community.
Salami, the second female vice-chancellor in the institution after Alele-Williams, described the late former and first female vice-chancellor as an iconic giant for breaking the glass ceiling for other women to blossom.
She expressed solace in the fact that the late professor was being celebrated rather than mourned.
“The Vice-Chancellor, University of Benin, Prof. Lilian Salami, on behalf of the Governing Council, Management, Staff, Alumni, and Students, mourns the passing of her predecessor, Prof. Grace Alele- Williams.
“Prof. Salami described the late former and first female vice-chancellor of the University of Benin as an iconic giant who broke the glass ceiling for other women to blossom,’’ Dr. Ehanire stated.
Author: Dr. Funmi Beckley