Etege Menen School was founded by Empress Menen, (Etege Menen) wife of Emperor Haile Selassie I on September 14, 1930 in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. It was the first all-girls school in Ethiopia and offered both boarding and day classes to students. The Empress realized early on that young women needed to have access to modern education just like young men. Girls from all over the country and all walks of life were brought and enrolled in the school and were encouraged by the Empress who visited often unannounced. Sometimes she visited during class hours, at other times she came and tasted their meals. She always presided over their graduation and other celebratory events.
She was active in promoting women’s issues. In 1935 in the face of the threat of the Italian fascist invasion of Ethiopia, she founded the Ethiopian Women’s Welfare Association EWWA with other women of the aristocracy and nobility. Initially EWWA was primarily involved in preparing medical supplies, gas masks and bandages for the war effort. At that time the students of Etege Menen School also participated in EWWA’s efforts. While in exile, the Empress, with the help of her daughter Princess Tsehai and Sylvia Pankhurst, continued to speak on behalf of peace and against the invasion of Ethiopia. After Liberation in 1941, EWWA focused on assisting women and children affected by the war, running orphanages, training programs for destitute women, and promoting handicrafts and traditional eateries to employ women. Etege Menen was very active and undertook a number of charitable duties focused on women, the poor, the infirm, the handicapped and religious issues.
A very devout woman, the Empress also served as Patroness of the Ethiopian Red Cross, and the Ethiopian Women’s Charitable, Jerusalem Society that arranged for pilgrimages to the Holy Land. She did much to support the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church. She built, renovated and endowed numerous churches in Ethiopia. She gave generously from her personal funds towards the building of the new Cathedral of St. Mary of Zion at Axum but did not live to see it completed and dedicated. She opened Siwaswe Birhan School for blind children. To this end she gathered blind orphans around Addis Ababa and hired Ethiopian and foreign teachers. She also assigned guardians for the blind orphans to facilitate their education needs. Etege Menen kept a low profile dedicating her life to the causes she believed in.
Etege Menen Asfaw died on February 15, 1962 in Addis Ababa Ethiopia and is buried at the Imperial Crypt at the Holy Trinity Church.
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