By Prudence Minayo
Joan Waithaka made history as the first African to head Alliance High School. This was the first secondary school for African girls founded in 1948 by the Alliance of Protestant Missionaries. Joan was among the first girls to graduate from Alliance High School. She went on to become the institution first African principal in 1969, taking over from Mary Bruce.
Here is Joan Waithaka’s story as told by WoK.
The Waithakas have a rich educational history. The family’s patriarch Musa Gitau was among the first PCEA clergymen after the Church of Scotland Mission set base in Kenya. He also taught Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and was a sponsor (Mutiri) when the country’s founding father faced the knife one early morning in Nyongera river, 1913.
One of his daughters Edith married the late Kenneth Matiba. Joan Gitau, or Mrs Joan Waithaka, as she would come to be known, was a daughter of Musa Gitau and Lilian Wamucii Gitau. She was born on 14th June 1929 at Kamandura, Limuru. Mr. Gitau, who believed in education for both boys and girls, ensured his children received the best available education.
Joan married professor James Mbugua Waithaka.
Joan schooled at Church of Scotland Mission Primary School in Thogoto. In 1941, she passed her Primary School Certificate education alongside Margaret Kenyatta. At the time there was no junior secondary education for girls.
Having done exceptionally well, Joan was among the first three girls to enrol at Alliance in 1944. During this time, Alliance was a boys only school. Some girls were allowed to join Alliance (Boys) High School before the formation of Alliance Girls. Her elder brother Alexander Njoroge Gitau had enrolled in the school in 1940. Alexander would go on to serve in the Kenyatta government as assistant education director and State House controller.
Joan beat all the boys in her class to clinch the first position in Alliance High School. She then served as Senior girl and went on to become the first and only girl to score Division one in the Cambridge School Certificate Examination.
After leaving Alliance High School, she would go on to pursue a diploma in education at Makerere University. She was the first girl from Kenya to enroll at Makerere University and became the first Kenyan girl to graduate with a teachers’ certificate diploma.
After returning to Kenya, she became a history teacher. Dr. Eddah Gachukia, her sister Edith Matiba, Mary Kiamakiru, Zelipa Wamwangi and Monica Kabeberi were among her first students. She then went on to teach Machakos Girls High School followed by Thogoto Teachers Training College. From 1967 to 1968, she taught at Highridge Teachers College. In August 1968, she became headmistress of Nairobi Girls Secondary School
More than 20 years after leaving Alliance, she would be appointed principal of Alliance Girls High School in August 1969. Despite being a strict disciplinarian, her students would come to affectionately describe her as auntie. She served in this position for 15 years.
In 1984, she retired from teaching. She then served in a number of boards including:
- Thogoto Teachers Training College
- Kiambu Institute of Science and Technology
- Education Review Commission
The late retired president Daniel Toroitich Arap Moi awarded her the Order of the Burning Spear second class. Kenyatta University also presented her the Distinguished Service Award in recognition for her outstanding contribution to education in the country.
Mrs. Waithaka passed away in 2019 and was laid to rest at her family home in Kentmere, Limuru.