The First Sierra Leonean Woman To Practise Law In Sierra Leone: The Story Of Frances Claudia Wright
Frances Claudia Wright, OBE (5 March 1919 – 2 April 2010), was a prominent Sierra Leonean lawyer during the 20th century. Known as “West Africa’s Portia“, in 1941 Wright was the first Sierra Leonean woman to be called to the Bar in Great Britain and to practise law in Sierra Leone.
Frances Claudia Wright was born in Freetown, British Sierra Leone, to Sierra Leone Creole parents, Claude and Eva Wright. Her father Claude and his brother Ernest Jenner were born in England to Sophie Slocombe, an English woman, and the Sierra Leone Creole man Claudius Ernest Wright, then a student. He later became a lawyer who served on the Legislative Council of Sierra Leone and as mayor of Freetown. Like his father, Claude studied law. He was called to the Bar at the age of 21, at the top of his class. He went to Sierra Leone from England in search of his father, finding that he had died and left Claude’s half siblings in debt. Deciding to settle in the Creole society of Freetown, Wright set up a practice and revived his father’s Gloucester Street premises, and also served on the Legislative Council.
Frances’s mother was Eva Smith, who was the outside daughter of Francis Smith, the second Sierra Leonean to qualify as a lawyer. Francis Smith was the brother of Claudius Wright’s mother-in-law and was the half-brother of Adelaide Casely-Hayford. Smith had served as puisne judge on the Gold Coast after attending QEGS in Wakefield, England.
To satisfy her father’s aspirations for a child to succeed him as lawyer, Frances Wright studied 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, during the Second World War. In 1943, she sailed for Sierra Leone on the ship SS California, but when this was sunk off North Africa she lost all of her possessions and had to be rescued by HMCS Iroquois.
Wright made her way to Sierra Leone and joined her father’s practice. She proved a force in the judiciary of Sierra Leone, once confronting Andrew Juxon-Smith with the expectation that she would be arrested. She served as the President of the Bar Association.
Wright never married. In 1991 she left the country at the outbreak of the Sierra Leone Civil War and settled in South Kensington in England. Her father’s practice in Freetown was destroyed in the war.
Frances Wright died in England on 2 April 2010.