How the West African “Good Girl” of the Mid-20th Century Behaved in a Relationship

Mid-20th-century Nigerian public media shaped a new image of modern West African girls and women. In particular, the “Milady’s Bower” column in the West African Pilot promoted the cultural ideal of a modern woman at that time. Its columnist, “Miss Silva,” often wrote about women and the changing roles of men and women in modern Nigeria at that time (Aderinto, 2015).

“Miss Silva” advised that modern women should be and behave in new ways. She explained that women do not experience and do not express love in the same manner as men. Women in love are more romantic and devoted than men. The gendered type of female love is due to their biological differences and certain gender expectations of Western African culture.

The Nigerian Girl’s Pride in Being a Woman

In Miss Silva’s view, the modern girl must also be willing to challenge long-held conventions and old-fashioned established practices. For example, she needs to change the ways in which gender relationships are formed.

In the “Milady’s Bower” column, they believed that a modern girl should be confident enough to ask a man out on a date. The days of waiting for a man to propose a romantic relationship are long gone. Miss Silva admitted that others might label the girl acting in this manner as a “whore.” Yet, according to Miss Silva, the social repercussions of disclosing one’s emotional intentions to a potential partner were outweighed by the need to communicate one’s feelings and break free from the “captivity of love.” She claimed that “the conspiracy of silence did untold harm and ought not to exist in these days of modern civilization.”

How the Nigerian Girl Could Win It

The “Milady’s Bower” relationship guidelines also offered instructions on how a woman ought to act when a man approaches her. A girl must courteously listen to “whatever one has to say to her and decline the same courteously without being offensive.” She must not behave with “false pride” or dig a “trench around herself”.

In her essay, “How to Win It,” Miss Silva gave suggestions on how a woman could win the heart of a man or make herself adored by him. She advised beautiful girls that they should not make the mistake of

“thinking that it is enough to be beautiful… Her loveliness may turn her into a selfish, cold hearted being, and so she has to remain unapproachable and unloved.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p. 495).

Miss Silva asserted that “simplicity” was a more valuable quality than beauty. She said that

“girls with their full share of pleasing looks may be neglected for the reserved and more simple [sic] ones.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p. 495).

What About Modern African Female Sexuality at That Time?

The “Milady’s Bower” articles discussed two stages of female sexuality and sexual relations. Miss Silva portrayed the first as a developmental stage in which a girl was “no longer a child but not yet a woman.” At this stage, a girl is still the “young damsel,” the “inexperienced girl,” going through her adolescence. Miss Silva stated that girls at this stage must be careful. They must avoid making the mistake of yielding to the pressure of sexual advances.

Another stage of female sexuality, which Milady’s Bower discussed, is a period of development when a girl is mature. It is a time when she has passed adolescence yet remains single.

Miss Silva was not straight in her opinion and gave advice about premarital sex at this stage. She did not explicitly judge premarital sex relations. However, she advised girls not to “cheapen” themselves and not to be “jolly sports” by having sex with different men:

“A reckless girl flirts, the infamous character will find out sooner or later, that she had created for herself an undesirable reputation.”

Miss Silva believed that when a girl frequently flirts and has numerous sexual relationships, these types of relationships may lower her self-esteem. These promiscuous relationships deteriorate her beauty, and men often abandon her.

Miss Silva allegorically depicted women as oranges, with sex as the juice:

“She finds herself stunned, for people after sucking the juice out of an orange will throw the remaining part away.”

Moreover, in her view, the modern girl must not engage in prostitution. First, it makes it risky to contract a disease. Second, it tarnishes the true African womanhood (Aderinto, 2015, p.495).

A “Good Girl” in Mid-20th-Century Western Africa

Midway through the 20th century in Nigeria, the West African print media played a major role in shaping a new image of what constituted normative modern womanhood and girlhood. What was a “good girl” to Western Africans?

The “Milady’s Bower” column in the West African Pilot newspaper helped establish the cultural ideal of a modern woman of that time. Its columnist, “Miss Silva,” advised women on their new urban gender identity. She suggested the new type of femininity be different from traditional patriarchal society (Aderinto, 2015).

In mid-20th-century West Africa, love was still gendered, but in a new way. The key piece of advice regarding gendered love was that women did not experience and did not express love in the same manner as men did. The common belief was that women in romantic love are more passionate and dedicated than men. Their biological differences and social gender expectations formed their female type of love.

An African girl must be a “good girl”, not a “bad girl”

The West African public media attempted to portray a dichotomy between “good” and “bad” modern girls.

A good girl would follow the path of social respectability. She’d be educated, employed, independent, and financially self-sufficient. She’d love a responsible man. Miss Silva was right when she said that girls were more likely to date respectable men if they went to school and worked for money.

For instance, one young woman, who worked as a receptionist for a “well-known department” in Lagos, wrote to Miss Silva that several men approached her for a relationship because of her social standing and education.

A modern woman should marry a decent, respectable man. Then, she should extol the virtues of modern African womanhood. She should participate in church and community activities.

A West African woman must be self-assured and reserved. She must avoid bad habits such as smoking, drinking, and wearing “charred hair.” She has to follow the modern cultural norms of socialization. At the parties, she must behave in accordance with ballroom etiquette and never engage in “nefarious,” “scandalous,” or “demoralizing [dance]… the sight of which can make a spectator shudder.”

The Girl’s Pride in African Womanhood

In her lifestyle and behavior, the modern girl must be neither too British nor too African. How Miss Silva wrote in reference to Europeans:

“We must try to emulate them. [T]hat is not a bad thing in itself, but we must do so only in things that are good and beneficial to us.”

Keeping a careful balance between combining European and African cultural traditions is required for a good contemporary girl. This path helped educate young women to be excellent African women.

“Miss Silva” and her writers attempted to achieve two distinct goals that sometimes clashed. First, they wanted the modern girl to challenge the established gender hierarchy, especially the idea that women should be at the bottom of the social, economic, and political ladders. Second, they told her to keep those “charms” and traits that made her more “feminine.”

The West African Girl’s Pride of Femininity

“Milady’s Bower” said that a modern girl shouldn’t give up her femininity for attitudes and actions that make her look like a man. Miss Silva didn’t think there was anything wrong with women working in politics, which is usually seen as a field for men. However, she didn’t want women to lose their femininity as they tried to change gender norms. This advice was clearer in one specific article that she wrote. She suggested to West African girls that they should try

“to be modest and not play the rough masculine part which spoils a great deal of feminine charm … She will realize how charming it is to be feminine instead of trying to be masculine, because a girl trying to play the latter part will not merely hurt her pride but humble her very existence into the bargain.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p.494).

In another article, ‘Masculine Girls’, she discouraged West African girls from being masculine, which, in her view, looks rather like a “bad” girl. For instance, Miss Silva argued that “only masculine girls will smoke.” She commented that smoking was a bad habit that only men and people in the West had and that modern girls shouldn’t pick it up. She disliked smoking so much that she said girls who smoked should be “eliminated from the circles of good society by all means.” (quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p.494).

Gender Expectations of West African Men in the Mid-20th Century

“Miss Silva” and her “Milady’s Bower” column shaped the new forms of urban masculinity in the mid-20th century in West Africa. That cultural image of a modern man of that time was better fitted to new city life’s realities (Aderinto, 2015).

What Being a Gentleman Meant for West African Men

The West African ethos of “gentlemanliness” was central to the new urban masculinity. Miss Silva defied the conventions regarding the physical appearance of a gentleman. She wrote that looking dandy or wearing a “shirt, collar, tie, trousers, coat, shoes, and hat did not make one a gentleman”.

Overall, a gentleman should prioritize manners over appearances. She praised men’s natural, attitudinal, and behavioral traits, like the advice that a gentleman “should not be bad-tempered.”

  • A gentleman “should try to admire others and envy none.
  • A gentleman “should be respectful and self-contained.”
  • A gentleman “should keep good company and avoid uttering evil words and bad language.” 
  • A gentleman “should be honest, truthful, and generous.”
  • A gentleman “should love others as himself.”

Miss Silva and her correspondents agreed that to be a true modern lover, a man must be a “gentleman” and not live a “pretentious life.” She thought that “gentlemanliness” was the most important thing that women liked about men:

“The most important thing that most women expect from men is that they should be gentlemen. There is only one kind of gentleman; and he is a man whose innate good breeding helps him to avoid giving pain to anyone; be that person man or woman, high or low, black or white. He never overrates his own personality, to the detriment of others; rather than commit this offence, he is always inclined to encourage others in their self-expression.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p.491).

What Else Did West African Men Need to Win the Hearts of Women?

However, to attract and keep a woman, modern West African men of that time needed something more than gentlemanliness. Living in the city and looking like a dandy or gentleman was not enough to get a girlfriend. Men must socialize in the proper places, attend dance shows, and go to movies.

Some young men felt disappointed and frustrated by urban life when they attempted to make social connections with girls for romantic and sexual relationships.

For instance, Onuigbo was one such young man who had no girlfriend five months after moving to Lagos. In his letter, he did not state explicitly what he was doing wrong.

As a rule of advice, Miss Silva believed that the way men behaved when they met a girl ultimately determined their chances of falling in love. She laid out the dos and don’ts of meeting a girl in her article “When you meet a lady” this way:

“Do not stare at her or cause her any embarrassment by walking into her way. By all means, avoid this showing that you are a gentleman, not nominally, but in practice. Do not try to create an impression by stating how great you and your achievements are. Men who show off may create a temporary amusement, but nothing more. Do not force yourself on her by proceeding to mention where you work and so on. She herself can ask for this if she is interested. Do not ask her impertinent questions, such as, Where are you going? Where do you work? Whom do you stay with? Such questions portray a shallow mind, coupled with lack of good behaviour. Do not give her your hands, even after introduction has taken place. She is the one to take the first step in this matter and not you. When you meet a lady, do not, out of prejudice, start to talk meanly of other women you know or exhibit their weaknesses. Vulgarity does not pay, rather it lowers one’s worth before others.”

(quoted by Aderinto, 2015, p.492).

Good Advice for West African Men to Fix a Relationship

Miss Silva’s belief was that men were typically to blame for broken relationships. She noted that men are generally less emotional than women and have a lack of emotional depth. Nevertheless, Miss Silva suggested that men should have the chance to voice their thoughts when women maltreat them.

For instance, Solomon Babalola wrote his letter in “Milady’s Bower” and complained that his girlfriend ended their one-and-a-half-year relationship. Babalola asserted that his girlfriend left him because he was poor. She left him for an ex-soldier who had been promised significant allowances by the government in exchange for his military service.

Babalola questioned Miss Silva with suffering in his heart if “women marry for wealth or for love”. He wrote once again to the newspaper two months later. He said that his ex-girlfriend had apologized. He consulted the other readers of “Milady’s Bower” on whether to take her back or continue with his new girlfriend.

The opinions of the readers were divided, expressing different views and suggestions (Aderinto, 2015).

What Nigerian Men and Women Wanted to Know About Sex in the 20th Century

The printed media of the mid-20th century paid much less attention to the topics of sex and sexuality compared to the questions of courtship, romantic love, gender roles, the influence of family, and marriage. What about sex?

West African editors of public media apparently opted to avoid these topics because they did not want to offend the traditional norms of Nigerian communities. In the conservative culture of that time, people would perceive it as offensive and repulsive to hear explicit references to sex. People were supposed to remain mute on such matters.

What Was Acceptable to Publish About Sex?

The authors of Nigerian newspaper articles, however, wrote about some topics associated with sex. For instance, prostitution was among them. It was discussed as a social problem that must be eliminated in West African cultures (Aderinto 2015). The authors depicted the immoral and perverted ways of life of prostitutes and suggested severely policing prostitution. The newspapers were also intended to provide moral lessons against sexual “deviancy”.

What Was Not Acceptable to Publish About Sex?

Nigerian public media commonly did not publish anything about the topics of the normal sexual lives of Nigeran men and women. In the same way, readers of newspapers usually did not write about these very personal and intimate issues. And editors did not publish the letters of ordinary people depicting their private sexual lives. They also did not publish any advice materials on how to improve one’s sexual life.

What “Milady’s Bower” Published About Sexual Life for Nigerians

However, the “Milady’s Bower” of the West African Pilot newspaper was among the rare exceptions. On a few occasions, “Miss Silva” tried to express her views on sexuality, but she did so very cautiously.

She began her column article, “Sex, secrecy, and chiding,” by commenting to readers that this subject of sex is unpopular in public media. However, she noted that the traditional silencing of sex may have a negative effect on the lives of men and women. She wrote:

“No doubt, the notion that all affairs pertaining to sex should be kept in the dark has done much havoc in the past and is still continuing to work with the same measure and full speed. Some people would make a fuss over sex discussion as if it were some ugly thing which should be erased from human thoughts as much as possible.”

(Aderinto 2015, p. 489).

“Miss Silva” also advised on the topic of premarital sex, saying that “if done at all, it should not be too much indulged in.” We don’t know what the reactions and opinions of readers to this statement were. Her correspondents were not willing to write about sex.

What About Sex Education?

Overall, few articles addressed the topic of sex education. However, Miss Silva and Dr. Azikiwe advocated that sex education should be introduced into the school curriculum. Dr. Azikiwe’s article “Sexology” offered particularly compelling arguments in support (Aderinto 2015).

Those authors suggested that during courtship, men and women should be well informed about sexual life. Then, couples would be able to enjoy their good sex life when married. Due to this, they would be strong Nigerian families.

Miss Silva and Dr. Azikiwe argued that inadequate education about human sexuality could be one of the causes of the “high” rate of divorce among Nigerian couples (Aderinto 2015).

African Cultural Attitudes Toward Kissing

Nigerian cultural norms of relations between men and women have many peculiarities. Kissing, according to some authors and readers of the West African Pilot newspaper, is un-African, a cultural practice copied from European cinema.

Here is how one author quoted the comment of a “white foreigner” about the kissing habit in love. When he saw how Nigerian lovers kissed, he said, “This country is young indeed to understand the theatrical gesture.” He considered it like something out of a European movie.

The same author, Mr. Mordi, stated in another article that kissing, like “any other enjoyment, had its one vice”.

Another reader, Ukaru, also made an argument against kissing. He claimed that kissing transmitted syphilis.

Thus, several authors and readers made a point against kissing, stating that “it is a nasty thing to kiss” and that there are no cultural reasons why Africans should follow this European habit (quoted in Aderinto, 2015, p.490).

The Pro-Kissing Arguments in West Africa

The Nigerian proponents of kissing attempted to distinguish various kinds of kissing, such as “kissing as a display of softer emotions,” “passionate kissing,” “erotic kissing,” “rascally kissing,” and “kissing with temperance.”

According to Miss Silva’s view, kissing is a good way to manifest love. Kissing could also ease conflict in a relationship. She advised, however, that a kiss needs “decency” and should not be “reckless” or “scandalous.”

The kissing debates of authors and readers in the “Milady’s Bower” of the West African Pilot touched on important facets of intimacy. They attempted to differentiate between private and public expressions of love.

Many other questions were disputed. Where and how is it acceptable to kiss? Is it acceptable to kiss in public? Can men and women show affection for each other in public without kissing? Or is it a private matter?

What Was More Important in Relationships for Nigerian Young People, Love or Money?

As I noted elsewhere, “Miss Silva” wrote “Milady’s Bower” for the West African Pilot newspaper in the middle of the 20th century. She shared with Nigerian women and men her wisdom on modern love and gender relations. Her column included readers’ letter-written love stories. Their thoughts, feelings, and words on love opposed the conservative African norms of that time. Together, they discussed how to cope with their relationship problems (Aderinto, 2015). They discussed what was more important, love or money.

I believe that those narratives and dialogues may resemble those that men and women still encounter in their daily lives and romantic relationships in traditional, conservative countries nowadays.

Let us continue to listen to what Nigerian men and women experienced and what “Miss Silva” advised.

The Love Heartbreaks of Nigerian Affairs

The young Nigerian women and men who were willing to follow their hearts in their courtship and relationships frequently encountered clashes between their modern love aspirations and the old-fashioned conservatism of their social norms.

They often experienced romantic disappointments in contradiction with parental intervention in their personal courtship and love affairs. The articles and letters on their love challenges provided an in-depth look at important facets of their courtship stories. They talked about everything that brings people into romantic relationships. They discussed physical beauty, emotional attraction, and why love fades. They debated the role of ethnicity, social class, and educational level in relationships. They strived to be modern lovers. They still tried to avoid interpersonal conflicts and manage their heartbreaks with maturity.

Readers and authors of letters trusted Miss Silva when she helped moderate these debates.

How Young Were Nigerian Men and Women to Marry in the Mid-20th Century?

Men and women often discussed in “Milady’s Bower” the questions of when the proper age for marriage is and how long their courtship should last.

The old cultural traditions of West African societies taught them to marry and have children early in their lives. The modern generation of young people of that time preferred to marry later, until they were financially in a good position. The primary reason for delaying marriage seems to be the cost of the marriage.

Young people of the new generation of the mid-20th century spent more time acquiring a Western education. Men often delayed their marriages because of a lack of job opportunities and little money to satisfy their wives. At the time, there was an unprecedented increase in bride prices. Marriage became more expensive for men than in the “old days” because modern wives of that time expected conveniences and comforts. Many wanted housing in good neighborhoods, good furniture, and appliances. Those young people who were raised in rich families could afford to marry earlier.

Many women also thought that men put off getting married and didn’t want to take on the responsibilities of marriage because they wanted to stay single longer and have more casual relationships (Aderinto, 2015).

Marriage for Love or for Money?

“Miss Silva” commonly advised young men and women to marry for love and follow their romantic attractions. Her position was that love, not money, is the most important factor in relationships and marriage. However, she still acknowledged the importance of financial issues and wealth-standing for marriage. She encouraged gender equality and women’s independence in several ways.

“Miss Silva” was still practical in much of her advice. For example, she suggested women “do not marry a jobless man.” The colonial marriage culture of that time put more responsibility on men as breadwinners. At the same time, Miss Silva said that

“women should be gainfully employed and not depend wholly on men” and that “in modern society, women should not be scared about being the family breadwinner.”

(Aderinto 2015, p. 488).

How Long Was Too Long for Courtship?

Nigerian men and women also discussed how long they should court before marriage. They acknowledged that courtship should enable a man and a woman to get to know each other better and to understand the prospect of how good their marriage would be.

Specific opinions, however, varied. Some thought that the courtship could go on for a few months. Others believed it could even last a few years. They largely agreed, however, that courting relationships should not be too long so that “the intending couples are still within the marriage age”. In this regard, conservative West African societies had their own traditional cultural expectations (Aderinto 2015).

“Miss Silva” Advised Nigerian Women and Men on Divided Affections

Throughout the 1930s -1950s, Nigerian columnist “Miss Silva” ran her column “Milady’s Bower” in the newspaper West African Pilot. In her column, she talked with Nigerian women and men about modern love and gender relations. Her column discussed the compelling love stories of anonymous readers, which they told in their letters. Their thoughts, feelings, and words reflected their opposition to the established gender standards of African patriarchy. They discussed the difficulties they had in their relationships (Aderinto, 2015). “Miss Silva” advised men and women what to do when they experienced divided affections.

These stories can be like those that men and women in traditional conservative cultures still experience in their lives and relationships around the world.

What advice did “Miss Silva” give to women and men in Nigeria about life, love, and divided affections? Can they be useful for some young people in modern conservative cultural contexts?

How to Find a Peaceful Conflict Resolution in the Case of Divided Affections

What did Miss Silva advise lovers in cases when they felt they were not able to follow their affection to marry the beloved? First, “Miss Silva” advised them to explore all options for peaceful conflict resolution.

For instance, they were advised to act as if they were obeying their parents while working to appease them. In one such case, parents refused to allow their son to marry the girl of his choice because she was not from the same town. It was despite the fact that their places of birth were just 25 miles apart. Even after the oracles had given them a favorable confirmation, the parents persisted in refusing their son’s intention. It was an issue of “old-time conservatism.”

Miss Silva told him to get help from older people to ask the girl’s parents to let them get married.

Another reader, who commented from Lagos, mentioned another similar case, suggesting that a man tell his girlfriend to “obey [her parents] first and then complain.” And then, “if after she had obeyed her parents, and they still refuse, leave her and find another girl.”

To Obey or Disobey?

However, it was evident that neither obeying nor disobeying parental orders to marry within one’s ethnic group, social class, or town guaranteed marriage or romantic happiness. Lovers found themselves in difficult situations with people they cared about.

For example, the parents of a single man, who had just finished his teacher training, told him to break up with a girl from another town. And he did.

Then he selected a girl from his own ethnic group. She was “poor and only half educated.” Out of his “sympathy and true love,” he paid for her to be educated and trained to become a seamstress.

But, after years of preparation and planning, his bride-to-be told him that she would marry him only if he bought her a gold chain. It was a real frustration for him.

This situation is comparable to another one. In her letter to Miss Silva, a twenty-year-old woman explains how her parents enrolled her in boarding school. This way, they were able to make sure that she would not get involved in any relationships. However, after she graduated from high school at the age of eighteen, her parents betrothed her to the son of their friend. She was frustrated:

“I could not love this man … and I still dread the idea of marrying him.”

This girl had a boyfriend, a “handsome” man with a “good” job.

Her boyfriend’s parents, however, wanted their son to be a polygamist. That was what the girl did not like at all.

Miss Silva commented on this case to emphasize the belief that an individual’s happiness is paramount in all relationships:

“My Dear girl, you are still young and I will not advise you to risk life at this age. You may depend on my word that you have not met the right companion, and when you do your present outlook will change. You have a right to your own happiness and nobody should dictate to you. As to the second man you love, you should try to forget him as the future will be risky for you. Be patient and hopeful; you’ll soon have the right one.”

So, it was apparent that those facing parental disapproval of their own courtship faced a big problem. They went through the painful emotions and controversies of divided affections. Some girls and boys were still in love with their ex-partners, even after their parents refused to recognize their courtship.

For instance, another man told Miss Silva that he was in deep love with a girl. But after three years of courting her, her family refused to accept him as their future son-in-law.

Then, he tried to begin dating another girl. Yet, he acknowledged that he was still in love with his first girlfriend. The man queried Miss Silva:

“Do you think I can do away with this first girl entirely and cling to my new lover?”

Miss Silva told him to go back to his first girlfriend, even though her parents didn’t like the relationship:

“Courting another girl when you still love the first one is queer, unless you can grow to love her as the first one … One thing you must know and that is, the course of true love does not run smoothly.”

(quoted from Aderinto, 2015).

What Miss Silva Advised Nigerian Women and Men About Love and Marriage

From the 1930s to the 1950s, the Nigerian columnist “Miss Silva” of the West African Pilot offered relationship advice for young men and women. Her essays and anonymous reader letters on contemporary love of that time expressed their enthralling love tales. Their stories often showed the contentious thoughts and feelings they had because of their resistance to traditional norms of gender relations and African patriarchy. A frequent question she advised about was love and marriage (Aderinto, 2015).

Therefore, in her advice column “Milady’s Bower,” “Miss Silva” spoke with Nigerian women and men about modern love and gender relations. They also had a chance to tell their dramatic stories and express themselves freely and anonymously. Did you hear other stories like these?

What did “Miss Silva” tell Nigerian women and men about life and love? Can her advice be useful to you?

Let us listen to their dramatic stories (Aderinto, 2015).

To Marry or Not to Marry in Obedience to Your Parents?

Some letter writers complained about the fact that their parents wouldn’t let them pick their own partners. For example, one reader wrote to “Miss Silva” that when he was away from the town for a while “struggling with his life,” his old mother married him to a girl of her preference. But he said that he did not know the girl and had never seen her before. The reason his mother married him was because she was “unable to do any domestic work in the house”. This was why she married him to that girl.

The man sadly wrote in his letter: 

“Marriage as you see, is not a simple affair as some people seem to think. The happiness of lovers depends upon the love and sympathy between them and this is why a man should be left to choose for himself.”

He thought it was selfish of his mother to have married him to a girl just for her own domestic needs.

Another young man had a similar situation. His parents engaged him to a woman he didn’t love. He asked the columnist of “Milady’s Bower” for some advice, and Miss Silva told him

“stick to the girl you love best … Never mind what their wish is … Love is such a delicate thing and should not therefore be dictated to intending contracting parties by their parents.”

So, you see, what Miss Silva advised these men, and others in similar circumstances. She literally told them to defy parental authority and elope, or secretly marry without following traditional marriage rites.

Thus, miss Silva in her newspaper column empowered readers to be brave in making decisions about love and relationships. And she advised recognizing that by disobeying their parents, they could face certain cultural, social, and economic consequences.

But anyway, she encouraged them to investigate all of the possibilities for resolving the problem in a peaceful manner. In the frustrated situations they feared, she shared with them her words of wisdom, suggesting they follow their affection and marry a person who they love (Aderinto, 2015).

Love Problems that Concerned Nigerian Women and Men in the 20 Century

The dramatic increase in literacy throughout West Africa during the first half of the 20th century precipitated a new era of cultural ideals in Nigerian society. The various print media expanded accordingly. Urban and educated people read more. They also wrote, sharing their experiences.

They expressed their new views on life, love, and relationships in Nigerian books and newspapers. These were the places where progressive Nigerians modernized love (Aderinto, 2015). West African literary love becomes more romantic in this new cultural climate.

Newspapers’ advice columns were the most interactive printed medium for urban people in southern Nigeria’s major cities to discuss their questions. Single young men and women were among the column’s primary readers, where they shared their views and expressed opinions. Advice columnists and readers both expressed their viewpoints. They discussed modern relationships, families, and love while writing the letters to editors.

“Miss Silva” Listened to Their Love Stories

For example, the Nigerian “Miss Silva” gave love advice in her column “Milady’s Bower” from 1937 until 1960. Her writings and anonymous letters from readers about modern love voiced their dramatic love stories. Those stories frequently ran into controversy with traditional African-style patriarchy and gender relations standards. So, the opportunity to speak freely without being identified was an important part of the colonial literary culture that this advice column brought to them.

Listen to What Nigerian Men and Women Said…

Let us listen to their stories…

“I could not love this man … and I still dread the idea of marrying him”

Nigerian men and women were concerned about forced betrothal and parental involvement in courtship. The freedom to choose a lover was one of the most important aspects of modern urban courtship, which was different from traditional rural culture. Some young men and women defied the “traditional” culture of betrothal by selecting a prospective bride or groom without their parents’ consent or approval. So, many letters to Miss Silva focused on the parents’ refusal to recognize a courtship. Some correspondents complained about their parents’ refusal to let them choose their own spouses.

“Dear Miss Silva, will you help me ease my present situation?”

Nigerian men and women were concerned about heartbreak, courtship, and sex. Heartbreak and romantic disappointment were also concerning issues for young women and men, in addition to parental involvement in courtship and love affairs. For them, being a modern lover meant avoiding or dealing with heartbreak maturely. The heartbreak letters and advice articles provided a deep understanding of key facets of the courtship relationship. Women and men shared their perceptions of physical appearance, interpersonal attraction, socialization, emotional attachment, ethnicity, gender, social, and educational status. They were concerned about all these and other issues that brought them together in romantic relationships.

Readers were more reserved about talking about sex and sexual relations. Is kissing in accordance with African culture? Where should men and women kiss, in private or in public? Can they show affection in public without explicit kissing? The kissing debates touched on important parts of intimacy. They discussed the thin lines between public and private displays of love. They talked about what is “decent” and what is “scandalous.”

‘Love is but a part of a man’s nature, while a woman’s whole existence breathes on it”

Gender roles and gender relations concerned Nigerian women and men when they were talking about modern love. In their writings, “Miss Silva” and her love advisers describe commonly accepted rules for modern relationships that apply to both sexes. They also explained that men and women do not love in the same way. Love is not completely genderless in their writing. The gendered nature of love is due to both biological differences between males and females and learned gender expectations in changing social and cultural contexts. Readers shared their views on modern masculinity and femininity.

“Milady’s Bower” Was a Transformational Public Cultural Club

Thus, we can see that, for Miss Silva and her correspondents, the newspaper became a public site where, on a daily basis, they could openly contemplate and publicly discuss the issues that concerned them. It was like a discussion club.

This mutual sharing of problems and the ways of life and love significantly contributed to the cultural development of new standards for what it meant to be a girl and a boy, a woman and a man, a wife and a husband, a mother and a father. All these discussions tremendously influenced what West Africans thought about the modernization of the colonial culture of love (Aderinto, 2015).

How Nigerian Education Changed Love in West Africa in the First Half of the 20th Century

The cultural evolution of love in West Africa in the first half of the 20th century occurred. The increasing urbanization of society and its major cities, such as Lagos, Ibadan, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, and other southern Nigerian cities, and their transformation into first-class colonial urban centers supported this cultural transformation.

The concurrent rise in literacy among many Nigerians came along with it. The interest in Western education was growing in the country and region. Many young people moved to southern Nigeria’s cities in pursuit of education. Only a few of them returned home to become farmers. Metropolises offered modern amenities that suited their new lifestyle. From the 1920s to the 1950s, the number of southern Nigerians with post-secondary education grew by a lot (Fafunwa, 1974).

The enhanced English literacy increased newspaper reading and allowed Nigerians to express themselves. This new cultural climate made the West African literary culture of love more romantic.

Saheed Aderinto, a Nigerian American professor of history, published a recent article on how literary culture and romantic love were represented in colonial Nigerian print media (Aderinto, 2015). During the first half of the 20th century, the author says, Nigerians began to look at love as a historical and biocultural construct.

How Nigerian Newspapers of Colonial Times Changed African Views of Love

In his article, Professor Aderinto shows how the modernization of love in Nigeria took place among the literate Nigerians, the so-called aspiring sub-elites.

The Nigerian newspapers were a place where educated people expressed various opinions and views. The readers joined to discuss new concepts about life, modern relationships, families, and love. Columnists express their advice in the advice columns. And readers also became a real network for expressing their opinions. In a comparative perspective, they discussed the evolving conventions of love, sex, and marriage (Aderinto, 2015).

The Nigerian “Miss Silva” and Her “Milady’s Bower”

Looking at the colonial Nigerian newspapers of the first half of the 20th century, Saheed Aderinto focused on the women’s column titled “Milady’s Bower,” published by Nnamdi Azikiwe’s West African Pilot. The editor of the column, with the pseudonym “Miss Silva,” authored from 1937 to the 1950s articles on several issues of relationships. She also gave advice to lovers. In that column, she published unedited letters from pseudonymous or anonymous readers who mostly respected her opinions on topics. The column’s audience enjoyed reading the materials of anonymous authors. They also appreciated anonymity because it gave them an opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings about some controversial matters without the risk of public sanction for such expressions.

Among the major audience for this column was the urban youth of southern Nigeria’s major cities, largely single young men and women. The ideas of modern love relationships expressed by newspapers’ readers were often in controversy with the traditional African-style patriarchy and the established norms of gender relations (Aderinto, 2015).

Nigerian Discussion of New Gender Roles

The gender roles depicted in the column were modern rather than traditional. The modern girl was portrayed as an educated and working person. She would have strong emotional and bodily autonomy. The modern boy was portrayed as a “clean,” polite, and disciplined gentleman who was committed to a relationship. In courtship relationships, a lady would be regarded in terms of socioeconomic status as an equal person. The assumption of gender equality was evident in all urban settings, such as dance halls, movie theaters, and others. Advocates of modern love believed that the way men and women were involved in courtship would have a strong impact on their marriage. This Nigerian cultural model, which was talked about in newspaper advice columns, was similar to how North America and Europe’s love cultures were changing at that time.

What Was “Modern Love” for Nigerians?

The Nigerian newspapers highlighted an enduring generational conflict between the old and new generations of women and men. The publications affirmed modern love as abandoning traditional relationships as “boring.” (Aderinto, 2015)

Their “modern love” evidently included the ideas of individualism in relationships. The newspapers advised that love was a personal matter and that the passion and wish of a person for independence and happiness should guide them in love. The idea that love is a personal matter was revolutionary for that historical period in Nigeria. This idea contradicted traditional practices in which parents, family, and the community could moderate many aspects of a relationship, such as betrothal, courtship, or resolution of marital conflict.

The Cultural Evolution of Love in West Africa in the First Half of the 20th Century

The transformation of Lagos, Ibadan, Onitsha, Port Harcourt, and other southern Nigerian cities into first-class colonial urban centers, along with the concomitant rise in literacy among many people, was essential to the cultural evolution of love in West Africa.

Growing Interest in Education Among Nigerians

Starting in the 1920s, colonialists’ growing interest in Western education increased school attendance. The elitist colonial education culture of the 19th and early 20th centuries gave way to a “populist” one. From the 1920s through the 1950s, the number of southern Nigerians with post-secondary education increased dramatically (Fafunwa, 1974).

The majority of educated young people had relocated to southern Nigeria’s big cities in search of education and salaried work. Few would return home to become farmers. Agricultural employment was paid less than government and private sector positions in cities. Besides, metropolitan centers provided modern amenities that suited their new preferred lifestyle.

The expansion of English literacy among the population had two effects. On the one hand, it increased newspaper readership. On the other hand, it allowed Nigerians to express their own views on life. That new cultural climate was ready to modernize West African love into a romantic passion (Aderinto, 2015).

Nigerian Courtship in the First Half of the 20th Century

During the colonial times of the first half of the 20th century, a variety of old and new cultural norms and practices took place in West Africa. They varied among people of different ethnicities and rural and urban residences.

In Nigerian society, both precolonial courtship culture and colonial courtship customs were practiced. This kind of transition caused a lot of tension and conflict, which urban youth tried to work out through arguments in the pages of newspapers and other print media.

The old traditional supervised courtship of the precolonial type was still common in many African tribes. For example, courtship among the Yoruba people of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo in West Africa came under strong communal supervision.

Parents and the community made sure that a prospective groom and bride would have limited contact before the full marriage rites were completed. That would prevent premarital sexual intercourse, which cultural norms of the Yoruba frown upon. The regulation of courtship did not allow a betrothed girl to meet her fiancé and his family without hiding her face by veiling.

Freedom of Courtship in Nigerian Cities

However, courtship in the cities was largely unregulated. A man and a woman had a certain freedom in their relationships. The freedom to choose a partner was an essential cultural option for young men and women in courtship in colonial urban contexts. It was a romance culture as opposed to the betrothal culture prevalent in the past. Some young men and women dared to choose a prospective bride or groom without their parents’ consent. Courting outside their immediate ethnicity and local community defied established ethnic and socioeconomic rules. If young men and women would court without their parents’ permission, they could not consummate their marriage (Aderinto, 2015).

Those young people whose courtship was not approved by their parents had a significant obstacle and came to the dilemma of split affections. Even though their parents wouldn’t accept their relationship, some men and women were still in love with their ex-partners.

Reading and Thinking About Love in Colonial Nigeria

During the first half of the twentieth century, the literate Nigerians largely living in cities were the aspiring sub-elites, interested in reading books and print media about many things, including families as important institutions of society.

Courtship, relationships, and modern love emerged in Nigerian print media and other public discourses. The public discussion of the concept of contemporary love and how people form relationships had a big impact on broader themes of nation-building and Nigerian social advancement. The modernization of love and family occurred in the minds of literate and educated Nigerians. Love was rethought by men and women as a modern historical and cultural concept (Aderinto, 2015).