Charlotte Makgomo Maxeke was born on 7 April 1871 in Fort Beaufort, Eastern Cape.

She was a religious leader, social worker, and political activist. She was the first black woman to graduate with a university degree in South Africa.

She obtained a BSc from Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1903.


At the age of 8, she began her primary school classes at a missionary school taught by the Rev. Isaac Wauchope in Uitenhage. She excelled in Dutch and English, mathematics and music.

From Uitenhage, she moved to Port Elizabeth to study at the Edward Memorial School under headmaster Paul Xiniwe. She completed her secondary school education in record time. In 1885 she moved to Kimberley with her family. Here she began teaching the fundamentals of indigenous languages to expatriates and basic English to African “boss-boys’. She joined the local choir. This took her on a trip to London to perform at Queen Victoria’s 1897 Jubilee. After the European tour the choir toured North America. At this point she came into contact with Wilberforce University where she later studied. At this university she met her later husband, Dr Marshall Maxeke.


Charlotte became politically active while in the African Methodist Church, in which she played a part in bringing it to South Africa. She was the elected president of the Women’s Missionary Society.

After her return to South Africa she became active in anti-colonial politics. She attended the formal launch of the South African Native National Congress in Bloemfontein in 1912. She also then organized women against pass laws.

Many of her concerns were related to social issues as well as ones that concerned the church. She wrote about the political as well as social issues that face women in isiXhosa.

Due to her activities   in anti-pass laws demonstrations, she was led to founding the Bantu Women’s League which later became part of the African National Congress Women’s League, in 1918. This was a grassroots movement that served as a manner of taking up grievances from mainly poor people. She demanded better working conditions for women farm workers. She led a delegation to the then Prime Minister to discuss issues of passes for women. These discussions led to protests by women in the following year.

Maxeke’s name has been given to the former “Johannesburg General Hospital” which is now known as the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital. A SA Navy submarine has also been named after her.  A statue of her stands in the Pretoria Garden of Remembrance.

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