A True Kenyan Heroine

There are no co incidences and here is why; I was in deep reflection about my grandmother last week. See about three years ago I begun to seek people who knew her in the hope that they could help me remember a little more than the smiling  cake serving face I carried with me through the years. I did find them her classmates who remember how distinct she was, and a few alumni from her college. And that was it I loved those memories and then kept them to myself at least until last week when the urge to look started all over again. So anyway after listening to Pastor M speak in the new November Series ,’No More Hating’  I had a double takeout one if I honour my leaders I honour myself and that I am proud to be Kenyan. I made a commitment to do a post about her. Today I was invited to be part of Kenya rocks and this here is my premier.

Her personal story remains untold and I feel honoured to share it with my countrymen. Florence Ngendo Mwangi a beneficiary of the Kennedy Airlift Programme (As was the late Professor Wangari Maathai), was born in Kinoo to Rahab Wambui Mwangi & Mwangi Muchiri and after preliminary education attended Loreto Limuru Girls and later  Smith College and all women’s college in the US, the first African student in the institution’s history.

Ng'endo Mwangi '61, the first female physician in Kenya, for whom the cultural center was named in 1973

She left a heroine after graduating to become the first female physician in Kenya.Later Smith set up a cross cultural centre to celebrate the college diversity and named it in her honour. Today the Mwangi Cultural Center stands as the epitome of cultural and social spaces for Black students at Smith. When she came back to Kenya, she briefely worked at the Kenyatta National Hospital and later set up a private practice in Athi River where her clinic catered for the Maasai community. She commited  the rest of her life toworking with this community away from the spotlight and glamour that should have accompanied her achievements. In childhood I remember her as a short melancholic woman, quiet yet sure of her step. One of her friends later told me she did not suffer fools gladly.

She lived quietly and constantly sought the help of her former colleagues for help in running her clinic. My sister who is four years older has two distinct memories of her that she share with me; once when she had a stitch Cucu gave her a sweet chewing g um like medicine to swallow. The other, which is certainly painful is on her dying bed where my sister remembers that smile with lips donned gently in gloss. My grandmother Dr Ngendo Mwangi (She officially dropped Florence and even had it gazetted in the 60s!) lost a painful battle to breast cancer in 1989 I believe it was. I did not attend her funeral because I was rather young but from what I recall from her friends and her surviving daughter Prof Wambui Mwangi, this woman was one remarkable Kenyan


At my parents house we have four pictures of her framed together probably in the 60s relating her life abroad and here her daughter shares the story behind one of her favourite mug shots.

I will continue to piece the story of her life together hopefully so that future generations can begin to understand her life and motivation. I was too young to ask her anything intelligent while she was alive but that she acheived so much while so young and chose to dedicate her life to others says something about her spirit. She was a true Kenyan heroine.

Kenya Rocks Past, Present & Future

Thanks for Smith College website & to Lucas Daniel Smith for the photos