Nancy L. Segal Ph.D.


A Twin Pioneer

The Legacy of Mary Slessor

Posted Apr 16, 2015

Mary Slessor was honored on February 14, 2015 in Melle, Belgium. Slessor made extraordinary contributions to the health and well-being of twins and their mothers in Calabar, Nigeria. The Mary Slessor Project is documented on the web site of Ette Ibibio, who organized the conference. Ibibio is also a cultural consultant and the owner and chef of an African restaurant, located in Ghent. He is also the father of male-female twins: Etifia (boy; “Ibibio deity”) and Idara (girl; “joy”).

Mary Mitchell Slessor was born in Gilcomston, Aberdeen in Scotland on December 2, 1848. She became a missionary teacher at age twenty-eight, as part of the Scottish United Presbyterian Church in Calabar. She has been described as “a Scottish lady with the courage of a Nigerian man” (see Slessor saved many newborn twins and their mothers from death and disownment by members of their community who believed twins harbored evil spirits. Her life and work are documented in a biography by A.J. Bueltmann (2011).

There were several highlights to the event. Pastor Samson Afolabi opened the meeting with a prayer, followed by a toast. The first talk was “The Story of Mary Slessor,” delivered by Mr. Eddy Eka of Nigeria. In addition to hearing details of her early life, we learned that Slessor was called “Everybody’s Mother.” In Calabar, a school, church and park bear her name. A statue of Slesor shown carrying twins has been constructed. 

The next speaker was Alexander Karl who works with the European International Space Station. His talk described the process of naming an asteroid for Mary Slessor. Asteroids are small rocks that revolve around the sun, mostly between Mars and Jupiter. They vary in size from tens of meters across to 1,000 meters in diameter (Wikipedia, 2015). The asteroid named after Mary Slessor (4793 Slessor) was provisionally designated 1988 RR4.

The next speaker was Dr. Calixtus Idio of Nigeria who considered why Mary Slessor is largely unknown, compared with a more well known nurse, Florence Nightingale.  It was suggested that Nightingale’s wealthy European background may explain why her work is better known than that of Mary Slessor.  

Next, Dr. Catherine Derom from Ghent discussed “The Biology and Epidemiology of Twinning.’ Her study of 200 MZ twin pairs showed that 32% were dichorionic-diamniotic, 66% were monochorionic-diamniotic and 2% were monochorionic-monoamniotic. More female than male pairs were represented in the monochorionic group. I delivered the last talk on the “Psychology of Being and Raising Twins.” I discussed the generally closer social relationships within MZ than DZ twin pairs. I also examined issues such as the pros and cons of separate vs. same classrooms and similar vs. different outfits for twins.

Ette Ibibio created new Ibibio names for twins: KENDI (firstborn, meaning “I'm on my way”) and AMEDI (secondborn, meaning “You are welcome”). Families can decide to give these special names to their twins with pride. I was honored to be named  Ambassadorship of these children to be. Additional information about the life and work of Mary Slessor, in addition to the projects of Ette Ibibio, can be found at his website:  Additional information about Mary Slessor will also be included in a forthcoming article in the journal Twin Research and Human Genetics

About the Author

Nancy L. Segal, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and the Director of the Twin Studies Center, at California State University, Fullerton.

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