Margery Michelmore came to Nigeria in 1961 for the Peace Corps training at the University of Ibadan. She was not used to life in Nigeria and couldn’t keep it to herself. So, on October 14, 1961, Margery Michelmore Heffron wrote a postcard to a friend back home in the United States of America stating the “squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions” of Nigeria. She said she was totally cut off from the world.
A student of the University of Ibadan intercepted the postcard before it was mailed and found its content insulting and annoying. The angry student made copies of Margery Michelmore’s postcard and distributed it around the campus which sparked outrage and riots.
The postcard story went viral than expected when Nigerian newspapers published it. It became front-page news all over the world. The Peace Corps staffs feared Nigeria was no longer safe for Margery Michelmore, so they flew her out of the country.
Before she was flown out of the country, she was made to see the Nigerian Governor-General, Nnamdi Azikiwe, to whom she tendered her apology. She lost her private and personal life as she bumped into pressmen everywhere she went. She said
“Then I left in a plane. It was all very cloak-and-dagger. I came to New York via Rome and London, and in each place, there were large press presences. By the time I got to New York, the press was pretty huge. I just had to deal with it“.
Margery Michelmore regretted her actions and became so down that she even received a personal note of encouragement from American President John F. Kennedy. He wrote:
“Dear Miss Michelmore, I want you to know that we are most appreciative of your steadfastness in recent days. We are strongly behind you and hope that you will continue to serve in the Peace Corps. Sincerely, John F. Kennedy.”
Below is a transcript of Margery Michelmore’s postcard
“Dear Bobbo: Don’t be furious at getting a postcard. I promise a letter next time. I wanted you to see the incredible and fascinating city we were in. With all the training we had, we really were not prepared for the squalor and absolutely primitive living conditions rampant both in the city and in the bush. We had no idea what “underdeveloped” meant. It really is a revelation and after we got over the initial horrified shock, a very rewarding experience. Everyone except us lives in the streets, cooks in the streets, sells in the streets, and even goes to the bathroom in the streets. Please write. Marge. P.S. We are excessively cut off from the rest of the world.”
Thanks for reading, OldNaija.
- Christina Barber-Just. ‘I thought I might have wrecked the Peace Corps’; Margery Michelmore Heffron unknowingly creates an international incident.
- Our Most Famous & Infamous RPCV: Margery Michalmore (Nigeria). Peace Corps Worldwide.
- Omipidan, Teslim Opemipo (2016). Post-Independence Era of Nigeria’s History. OldNaija.