Henries, A. Doris Banks 1913–1981
A. Doris Banks Henries 1913–1981
Writer, dean of education
Born and educated in the United States, A. Doris Banks Henries spent most of her adult life in the West African Republic of Liberia. One of that country’s most prolific authors, Henries wrote histories, biographies, essays, and poetry, and produced 27 books on Liberian education. She pioneered the collecting of Liberian poetry and folklore. Henries served as an educator in Liberia until the coup in April of 1980 that overthrew the government and cost her husband his life. Henries’ work emphasized the role of education in promoting African cultural identity for black people around the world.
Born on February 11, 1913, in Live Oak, Florida, Doris Banks attended public schools in Middletown, Connecticut. She graduated from the Teachers Training School at Willimantic Normal School (now Eastern Connecticut State University) and subsequently studied at Yale University, earning her master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University in New York City. From 1934 until 1939, Banks served as principal of Fuller Normal School in Greenville, South Carolina.
In 1939 Banks traveled to Liberia as a United Methodist Church missionary on a Methodist Trust Fund Grant. Liberia, the oldest republic in Africa, was the only black nation on the continent that had escaped colonization. American blacks began settling there in 1822 and these “Americo-Liberians” controlled the government.
Banks married a Liberian politician, Richard Abrom Henries, in 1942. The couple had two sons. Doris Banks Henries began her Liberian career as director of education for Maryland County. In 1942 she became a professor at Liberia College in the capital of Monrovia. The institution was renamed the University of Liberia in 1951. Concurrently Henries served as dean of the William V. S. Tubman Teachers College until 1955, when she was named dean of the university. During two of her four years as dean of the University of Liberia, she also served as acting president.
Doris Henries had already written textbooks and histories of Liberia when, in 1950, the country’s president and her good friend, William V. S. Tubman, gave her permission to write his biography and granted her several long interviews. The book was published in 1967. In 1959 Henries went to work for the Liberian government as Director of Higher Education and Textbook Research. In 1978 she became the acting assistant minister of education. She continued to write textbooks, children’s books, histories, and poetry. She produced numerous publications for the Ministry of Education and wrote essays on Liberian literature. Much of Henries’ work was published in London and New York, including a Liberian poetry anthology and a collection of Liberian folklore.
Henries’ writing focused on reestablishing Liberian and African cultural and economic identities. In her 1977 article “Black African Cultural Identity,” published in Présence Africaine: Cultural Review of the Negro World, Henries wrote: “the whole continent of Africa… has been exploited for centuries to build highly industrialized empires, but enjoys minimal benefits of labor expended in the process of development. Worst of all,
Born A. Doris Banks on February 11, 1913, in Live Oak, FL; died on February 16, 1981, in Middletown, CT; marred Richard Abrom Henries, 1942; children: two sons. Education : Willimantie Normal School (now Eastern Connecticut State University), BSc, 1920s; graduated from Connecticut State Teachers’ College, 1920s; attended Yale University, 1920s; attended Hartford Seminary, 1930s; attended University of Besancon, France, 1930s; Columbia University, MA, 1930s, PhD, 1930s, Religion : Methodist. Politics: True Whig Party.
Career: Fuller Normal School, Greenville, SC, principal, 1934-39; United Methodist Church, missionary in Liberia, c. 1939; Maryland County, Liberia, director of education, 1940-42; Liberia College (became University of Liberia in 1951), Monrovia, professor, 1942-59; William V. S. Tubman Teachers College, dean, 1951-55; University of Liberia, dean, 1955-59, acting president, 1956-57, 1958-59; Liberian government, director of higher education and textbook research, 1959-78, acting assistant minister of education, 1978.
Selected memberships: Liberian National Teachers Organization; Methodist Board of Education; National YMCA (Liberia); Society of Liberian Authors; World Council for Curriculum and Instruction.
Selected awards: Liberia College, honorary doctorate, 1949; Humane Order of African Redemption, Knight Official, Star of Africa, 1950, Grand Band, 1955; Order des Arts et des Lettres (France), 1958; Order of the Pioneers of Liberia, Dame Grand Commander, Order of Knighthood, 1959; Order of the Grand Cross, Order of Merit (Germany), 1962.
the black people of Africa have lost much of their cultural identity through conflicts and domination by outside groups. This has been a dreadful tragedy and handicap to advancement.” Henries continued: “Under the colonizing powers, African culture has been disrupted by the imposition of European ways of life. Thus, much of the rich heritage of black people has been submerged and a pollution of foreign culture has supplanted the best as well as the worst in social foundations.” Henries called for “the Africanization of the school curriculum and textbooks…. It should be the policy of African schools to include in all programs as much literature written by Africans as is available.”
Throughout her career Henries was active in numerous organizations. In 1949 she became the first regional director for Africa of the Zeta Phi Beta Sorority and she served again during the 1970s. She was president of the Liberian National Teachers Organization and the National YMCA of Liberia. Henries served as chairman of the Liberian Methodist Board of Education, as vice-president of the Liberian Chapter of the Federation of Women’s Organizations, and as vice-chair of the Opportunities Industrial Centre. She also was a member of the African Studies Association, the American Academy of Social Sciences, and the International Alliance of Women.
In April of 1980, the Liberian government of William R. Tolbert, Jr., was overthrown in a military coup. R. A. Henries, Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives, was one of 13 government officials executed by firing squad. The next month, after 41 years in Liberia, Henries returned to Middletown, Connecticut. She died of cancer a few months later on February 16, 1981.
(With Richard Henries) Liberia, the West African Republic, F. R. Bruns, 1950; H. Jaffe, 1968.
The Liberian Nation: A Short History, Collier-Macmillan, 1953, rev. ed., 1966.
Heroes and Heroines of Liberia, Macmillan, 1962.
Development of Unification in Liberia, Department of Education, 1963.
(Editor) Poems of Liberia, 1836-1961, Macmillan, 1963.
The Life of Joseph Jenkins Roberts, 1809-1876, and His Inaugural Addresses, Macmillan, 1964.
(Editor) Liberian Folklore: A Compilation of Ninetynine Folktales with Some Proverbs, Macmillan, 1966.
A Biography of President William V. S. Tubman, Macmillan, 1967.
Africa: Our History, Collier-Macmillan, 1969.
(Editor) Liberia’s Fulfillment: Achievements of the Republic of Liberia During Twenty-five Years Under the Administration of President William V. S. Tubman, 1944-1969, Banks, 1969.
Higher Education in Liberia, Department of Education, 1971.
The Role of Women in Africa’s Evolution, Henries, 1971.
Secondary Education in Liberia, Ministry of Education, 1972.
(With James A. Benson, et al.) The Status of Literature in Liberia, Society of Liberian Authors, 1972.
The Writings of A. Doris Banks Henries, African Imprint Library Services, 1973.
(Editor) Education Laws of Liberia, 1926-1974, Monrovia, 1974.
The Educational System of Liberia, Ministry of Education, 1974.
Higher Education in Liberia: Retrospect-Present-Prospect, Ministry of Education, 1974.
Modern Mathematics in Liberia, 1962-1974, Ministry of Education, 1974.
“Pageant of Modern Africa” (poetry), Présence Africaine, 1966.
“Message from the President of the Society of Liberian Authors,” Kaafa: Journal of the Society of Liberian Authors, 1971, pp. 7-16.
“One Hundred and Fifty Years of Liberian Literature,” Kaafa, 1972, pp. 13-21.
“Liberian Literature,” Kaafa, 1974, pp. 1-9.
“Black African Cultural Identity,” Présence Africaine, 1977, pp. 119-128.
Herdeck, Donald E., African Authors: A Companion to Black African Writing, Vol. I: 1300-1973, Black Orpheus Press, 1973, pp. 150-151.
New York Times, February 18, 1981, p. 14.
“A. Doris Banks Henries,” Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (January 14, 2004).
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