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Abstract The renaissance of African economic history in the past decade has opened up new research avenues for studying the long-term social and economic development of Africa. A sensitive treatment of African realities in the evaluation of European colonial legacies and a critical stance towards the use of new sources and approaches is crucial. In this article, we engage with a recent article by Meier zu Selhausen and Weisdorf to show how selection biases in, and Eurocentric interpretations of, parish registers have provoked an overly optimistic account of European influences on the educational and occupational opportunities of African men and women. We confront their dataset, drawn from the marriage registers of the Anglican Cathedral in Kampala, with Uganda’s 1991 census, and show that trends in the literacy and numeracy of men and women born in Kampala lagged half a century behind those who wedded in Namirembe Cathedral. We run a regression analysis showing that access to schooling during the colonial era was unequal along lines of gender and ethnicity. We foreground the role of Africans in the spread of education, and we argue that European influences were not just diffusive but also divisive, and that gender inequality was reconfigured rather than eliminated under colonial rule.