Here is a collection of profile stories which traces the history, experiences, challenges and successes of outstanding women from the Caribbean territories, as they navigate the traditionally male dominated arenas.
“The collection brings together in one place, a distinguish group of women who have contributed in significant ways to the development of the Caribbean and the Americas. Who have pushed against the odds to achieve their goals and who have been quite extremely influential in the business and political landscape”
JUDGE CONSTANCE BAKER MOTLEY
The Honorable Constance Baker Motley was a civil rights lawyer, lawmaker and judge whose career spanned six decades and was highlighted by numerous historic achievements, including becoming the first African American woman accepted at Columbia Law School, the first African American woman elected to the New York Senate, the first woman and the first black woman to hold the position of Manhattan Borough President, and the first African American woman appointed to serve as a federal district judge.
Constance Baker Motley was born on September 14, 1921 in New Haven, Connecticut, the ninth of 12 children born to parents who had emigrated from the island of Nevis in the West Indies. Her father worked as a chef for various Yale University student organizations, including Skull and Bones. She attended local schools in what was then an overwhelmingly white community. Wanting to attend college but lacking funds, Constance Motley was lowered to working as a struggling housekeeper after high school.
When she was 18, Motley made a speech at local African-American social center that was heard by Clarence W. Blakeslee, a white businessman and philanthropist who sponsored the center. He was impressed and offered to finance her education. Thrilled with the opportunity, Constance chose Fisk University in Tennessee, but was unprepared for the Jim Crow South. After less than two years, Constance Motley returned to the North and attended New York University.
After graduating from New York University in 1943, Constance Motley took a well-paying job with a wartime agency that aided the dependents of servicemen. A year later, she turned down a promotion to attend Columbia Law School. “That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard, a complete waste of time,” her supervisor told her. “Women don’t get anywhere in the law.” While still a law student at Columbia, Motley met Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s legal director, who offered her a job as a law clerk in the organization’s New York office.
In 1948, Constance Baker Motley began a 16 year career as a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, serving as a key attorney in many of the major legal challenges of the civil rights era, including dozens of school desegregation challenges. She was the only woman on the legal team in the historic legal challenge to school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. She was lead counsel for James Meredith in his successful battle to gain admission to University of Mississippi. She argued ten cases to the United States Supreme Court, winning nine of them.
Always a staunch supporter of civil rights, Constance Motley visited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in jail, sang freedom songs in churches that had been bombed, and spent a night under armed guard with Medgar Evers, the civil rights leader who was later murdered.
In February 1964, Constance Motley’s high-level civil rights profile drew her into politics. A Democratic State Senate candidate from the Upper West Side was ruled off the ballot because of an election-law technicality. She accepted the nomination on the condition that it would not interfere with her N.A.A.C.P. work and handily defeated a Republican to become the first black woman elected to the State Senate. She was re-elected that November.
She remained in the job until February 1965, when she was chosen by unanimous vote of the City Council to fill a one-year vacancy as Manhattan borough president. In citywide elections nine months later, she was re-elected to a full four-year term with the endorsement of the Democratic, Republican and Liberal Parties.
In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Constance Motley as a judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York at the urging of Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York, a Democrat, and with the support of Senator Jacob K. Javits, a Republican. The opposition of Southern senators like James O. Eastland, a Mississippi Democrat, was beaten back, and her appointment was confirmed. She became chief judge of the district in 1982 and senior judge in 1986.
Judge Motley won cases that ended segregation in Memphis restaurants and at whites-only lunch counters in Birmingham, Alabama. She fought for King’s right to march in Albany, Georgia. Motley also played an important role in representing blacks seeking admission to the Universities of Florida, Georgia Alabama and Mississippi and Clemson College in South Carolina.
In 1993, Constance Motley was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2001, President Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal. The NAACP awarded her the Spingarn Medal, the organization’s highest honor, in 2003.
BARBARA ANN CADET
Born: July 17, 1965 Instrument: Saxophone
A former head of the woodwind department at the St. Lucia School of Music, Barbara studied music in England where she was born and lived for some time. With her roots in Saint Lucia, and clearly destined to music , Barbara in an undisputed heavyweight in the industry in the Caribbean. She has lectured on Caribbean Music at the University of Miami and her musical callaborationsand experimentations are several and legendary. She has performed throughout the Caribbean Jazz circuit- Martinique, Trinidad & Tobago, Aruba, Grendad, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Cayenne and Jamaica, and has opened for Tanya Maria, Patti La Belle, Anita Baker, and Spro Gyra, among several others over the 20 year span of St. Lucia Jazz. In February 2004, Barbara was awarded the St. Lucia Medal of Merit (Gold) for her long and meritoriuos service in the field of music Her work with Poetry, Theatre and Dance Productions are also worth noting.. Supported by the Cultural Development Foundation and the St. Lucia Heritage Tourism Programme, she collaborated with the original composer of the musicals of one of the regions most acclaimed playwrights to score, arrange and produce “Songs from the musicals of Roderick Walcott ( twin brother to Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott) for the mass market. The project spans various genres from indigenous Folk to Latin, from Jazz to Country and Western. She worked with ST. Lucian award winning writer/poet Adrian Augier to produce Soundtracks for Theatre Productions , for the St. Lucia’s 25th & 30th Independence Celebrations “Anthem” & “Esperance” and several Dance Production Soundtracks for local dance companies. Barbara was also commissioned by the St Lucia Air and Sea Ports Authority to produce the Soundtrack for the St. Lucia Animation Centre featuring a twenty-five minute multi-faceted presentation of the History of the Land of St. Lucia.
Her musical collaborations and experimentation are legendary as are her innovative musical projects. Barbara was instrumental in the establishment of award winning All-Female Steel Orchestra “Allegro Pan Groove” as well as the All Female group “Sisterhood” who performed Main Stage St. Lucia Jazz Festival 1999. In 1992 Barbara was invited to perform for the 28th Birthday Party of the Prince of Morocco at the Royal Palace, Rabat. In 2008 Barbara launched her Jazz/Folk Cd “Indigenously Yours” on Main Stage, St Lucia Jazz. In May 2009 Barbara headlined alongside Moroccan born Paris based Virtuoso Percussionist Khalid Kouhen, Main Stage act for the Festival. Barbara Cadet was featured as the face of the 2009 “Lime” St. Lucia Telephone Directory and over the years made many local Newspaper Covers. Her unique vocal attributes have impressed no less than Ellis Marsalis, and she has had the honor of exchanging notes with the likes of McCoy Tyner, Michael Brecker and the Legendary Denis Chambers. Currently commissioned by the St. Lucia Tourist Board, Barbara is Producing and Directing “The St. Lucia Collective” a collaboration of the island’s Music icons, that performed Main Stage, St Lucia Jazz 2011. The Group opened for Richard Bona, Mike stern, Chuck Brown and John Legend..
DAME RUTH NITA BARROW, G.C.M.G., D.A.
Dame Ruth Nita Barrow was awarded the honour of being appointed Governor General of Barbados on June 6th 1990. Barrow served as Head of State until her eventual death on December 19th 1995.
Born on the 15th of November 1916, Nita Barrow was an ambitious woman born to a family of political activists.
Her father, an Anglican priest, was removed from his posting on the island of St. Croix for his controversial sermons preaching against racism and social stratification.
Her uncle, Dr. Charles Duncan O’Neal, was founder of the Democratic League of Barbados and one of the island’s 10 National Heros.
While her younger brother, Errol Barrow fought for independence of the nation. With independence, Errol become Prime Minister of Barbados (1966 – 1976 and 1986-1987).
An activist and leading humanitarian herself, Nita paralleled her family’s achievements.
Nita Barrow studied nursing in Barbados, continuing her studies at the University of Toronto, Edinburgh and Columbia Universities. She began her career as a trained nurse, midwife, and health care administer, holding a number of positions in Barbados and Jamaica.
Barrow soon rose to international acclaim becoming an accomplished international public health official and diplomat.
Appointed to a number of international bodies, Nita Barrow held the following position during her long and illustrious career:
Public health advisor to the World Health Organization & the Pan-American Health Organization
President of the World YWCA (1975-83)
President of the International Council of Adult Education (1982-90)
President of the World Council of Churches (1983)
Ambassador to the United Nations (1986-90)
Nita Barrow was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1980 as Dame of St. Andrew and Dame Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George. Thereafter, she became known as Dame Ruth Nita Barrow.
Like her brother Errol, Nita Barrow was known for her outspoken nature and commitment to development. A founder and member of the Global Fund for Women’s Board of Directors, Dame Nita was especially concerned with women’s rights vis-à-vis health care.
In 1985, Dame Nita presided at the International Women’s Conference in Nairobi, Kenya. The next year, Barrow was appointed as Barbadian Ambassador to the United Nations (UN), a post which she held until 1990. Nita Barrow was the only woman named to the Eminent Persons Group. The group was responsible for investigating racism in South Africa.
In 1988, Dame Nita ran against then foreign minister of Argentina Dante Caputo for the position of President of the UN General Assembly.
A fiery campaign led to the first secret ballot Assembly President election since 1983. One of the most contested and heated campaigns in the history of the United Nations, Dame Nita lost the election.
Dame Ruth Nita Barrow died of a stroke on December 19th, 1995. She was 79 years old. She is honoured by a number of national and international initiatives and awards including:
She was made Dame of the [British] Order of St. Andrew’s in 1980 and awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of the West Indies. Although she refused to call herself a feminist, she cared deeply about the plight of the people and was awarded the Carribean Prize for Peace through Struggle for Justice in 1986, and the CARICOM Award for Women in 1987. A pioneer and advocate she was; for many, many in the world.
DAME MONICA JESSIE DACON, DBE. CMG.
Monica Jessie Sheen was born on 4th June 1934. She has the distinction of being the first woman ever appointed as Deputy Governor General and as Acting Governor General in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She is the widow of the former, well loved and highly respected parliamentarian, The Hon. St. Clair Dacon.
Monica Dacon attended The Girls’ High School where she passed both the Cambridge School Certificate and the Cambridge Higher School Certificate. She then went on to enjoy a distinguished teaching career that spanned thirty-five years. In 1952 she began teaching at her alma mater and the Boys’ Grammar School. She would return to the Girls’ High School eleven years later having taught in two Trinidad and Tobago schools, before returning to St. Vincent to teach at the Bishop’s College, Kingstown in 1966. Mrs Dacon acted as Principal of Bishop’s College for a few months before going back to the Girls’ High School where she remained for nearly fifteen years.
Mrs. Dacon continued her studies and gained the St. Vincent Teachers’ College Certificate in 1980 and two years later her Bachelor of Education degree from the University of the West Indies. On her return to St. Vincent she moved from secondary education to the tertiary level and became a lecturer at the St. Vincent Teachers’ Training College.
Throughout her life Monica Dacon has been involved in church and civic activities. She was a member of the Girl Guides Association and served as a Brownie Guider as well as teaching Sunday school for many years and assisting with the preparation of the Methodist Church’s School Curriculum. In 2001 she was appointed as a member of the Public Service Board of Appeal.
Monica Jessie Dacon was appointed Deputy Governor General in 2001 when Sir Charles Antrobus was Governor General, she continued in this office upon his death and with the subsequent appointment of Dr. Frederick Ballentyne as Governor General. She has been Acting Governor General on numerous occasions, and continues to carry out her duties with grace and dignity.
ANGELA E. VERNON-KING, B.A., MA
Angela Evelyn Vernon King (August 28, 1938 – February 5, 2007) was a Jamaican diplomat. She worked for the United Nations for 38 years, from 1966 to 2004, working mainly for equal rights for women. She was appointed Assistant Secretary-General for gender issues in 1997, remaining in that post until she retired in 2004.
King was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Her father was Canon R.O.C. King; her brother was Peter King. She was educated at St Hilda’s High School and Wolmer High School in Kingston, and studied for a B.A. in history at the University College of the West Indies. She received an MA in educational sociology and administration from the University of London in 1962. She then joined the Foreign Office of the newly-independent Jamaica, and was posted to Jamaica’s Permanent Mission at the United Nations in New York.
Angela joined the UN Secretariat in 1966 from the Permanent Mission of Jamaica, where she worked on matters relating to human rights and social development. She was one of the first two women Foreign Service officers posted after Jamaica joined the UN. While at the UN, she held the positions of director of Recruitment and Placement, director of Staff Administration and Training, deputy to the Assistant Secretary General for Human Resources Management, and director of the Operational Services Division, where she worked closely with the Focal Point for the Improvement of the Status of Women in the Secretariat on issues such as special measures for women and sexual harassment.
Angela had a long history of active work for the advancement of women in the UN Secretariat. She was a founding member of the ad hoc Group on Equal Rights for Women (GERWUN) and chaired the Secretariat’s High-level Steering Committee on Improving the Status of Women. Angela attended the First, Second and Fourth Women’s World Conferences in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Beijing (1995) and organized and directed the Beijing Special Session of the General Assembly (2000). She served as director of the Division for the Advancement of Women of the Department for Economic and Social Affairs (1996), where she was responsible for the†follow-up to the Beijing Conference and for managing the central UN program for the advancement of women. She also chaired the Inter-Agency Network on Women and Gender and Equality (IANWGE) and supervised the Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW).
The UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has issued a statement in which he says: “Angela King led the United Nations’ efforts for the empowerment of women with knowledge, passion and courage as the United Nations worked to translate into practice the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Dame Elmira Minita Gordon, GCMG, GCVO. Born on December 30, 1930, in Belize City Dame Minita Gordon has the distinction of being Belize’s first Governor–General from its independence to 1993, being the first woman in a Commonwealth realm to assume that position. She was educated in Belize City at St. John’s Girl’s School and St. Mary’s Primary School, before attending the Government Teacher’s Training College. Her teaching career began as an Anglican school teacher including missionary work throughout Belize, extending from 1946-1958. During the years 1959-1969 Dame Minita lectured at the Belize Teacher’s Training College, after which she became an Education Officer. She furthered her academic achievements by correspondence course from the College of Preceptors, Oxford, England. Dame Minita then went on to attend the Universities of Nottingham and Birmingham in England, the University of Calgary in Alberta, Canada, then pursuing a Master’s degree in Educational Psychology followed by a Ph.D course in Applied Psychology at the University of Toronto, Canada. She became Belize’s first Psychologist in 1980. She has been a member of the Girl Guides since 1946, becoming District Commissioner for the Belize district in 1970.
In 1981 became the first Belizean to receive a Certificate of Inclusion in the International Who’s Who of Intellectuals.
Justice of the Peace in 1974.
In 1975 awarded the Certificate of Honour and Life Membership of the British Red Cross.
Conferred with an honorary degree from the University of Victoria, Canada, in 1984.
Member of the National Library Service Board until 1976.
Member of St. Hilda’s College Board of Governors.
Deputy Chairperson of the Domestic Wages Council.
Member of the Y.W.C.A.
Member of the Educational Psychology Programme Planning Committee, University of Toronto 1977-1978.
Member Leather Craft Club, Toronto 1978-1980.
The Honorable Madame Justice Désirée Bernard, O.R.,CCJ., C.C.H.
The Honorable Mme. Justice Désirée Patricia Bernard, a citizen of Guyana, was born on 2 March 1939. She read Law at the University of London, graduating with the LLB degree in 1963. Qualifying as a solicitor in 1964, Mme Justice Bernard engaged in private practice in the High Court of the Supreme Court of Guyana from 1965 to 1980. During that period, she was appointed a Magistrate (1970), Commissioner of Oaths & Notary Public (1976) and was admitted to the English Roll of Solicitors (1977).
Thereafter, Mme. Justice Bernard, established a number of professional “firsts”, being appointed the first female High Court Judge of the Supreme Court of Guyana (1980); the first female Justice of Appeal (1992); the first female Chief Justice of Guyana and in the Commonwealth Caribbean (1996); and the first female Chancellor of the Judiciary of Guyana and in the Commonwealth Caribbean (2001). Mme. Justice Bernard took the oath of office as a Judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice at the Court’s Inauguration Ceremony, on Saturday 16 April 2005.
During her long and distinguished career, Mme. Justice Bernard has held memberships in various regional and international organizations, having been the founding Secretary of the Caribbean Women’s Association (CARIWA-1970-1974); first President of the Organisation of Commonwealth Bar Associations (OCCBA-1976); member and Chair of the Caribbean Steering Committee for Women’s Affairs, later established as the Women & Development Unit of UWI (WAND-1978). Internationally, Mme. Justice Bernard served as both rapporteur (1982-1984) and Chair (1985-1989) of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women during her membership, which ran from 1982 to 1998. Mme. Justice Bernard has presented many scholarly papers at and participated in numerous international seminars and colloquia both regionally and internationally.
For her exceptional contribution to the improvement of the status of women and to the development and practice of law, Mme. Justice Bernard has received several awards, the most notable being: the Cacique Crown of Honour, and the Order of Roraima, Guyana’s 3 rd and 2 nd highest national awards respectively.
The Honorable Mme. Justice Bernard is single, and has an adopted daughter, Ms. Carol Ann Bernard, herself an attorney-at-law.
Dame Billie Antoinette Miller, D.A. BCH
Dame Billie Miller was born in Barbados on January 8th, 1944. She was educated at Belair Junior School and Queen’s College in Barbados, King’s College, Durham University, and the Council of Legal Education in England and was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1968 and one year later to the Bar of Barbados. During the periods 1969-1976 and 1987-1994, she worked as a practising Barrister and Attorney-at-Law. For several years she was the only woman practising at the private Bar. Her practice was mainly a civil court and chamber practice where she carved out a specialty in family law in advance of modern family law legislation in Barbados. She is a member of the Honourable Society of Gray’s Inn-of-Court, London and was a member of the International Federation of Women Lawyers from 1975-76.
Dame Billie Antoinette Miller was re-elected Member of Parliament for the City of Bridgetown for the seventh time and was appointed Senior Minister in May 2003, retaining the portfolios of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade. She was the first woman to sit on the Cabinet of Barbados. Over the years, her ministerial portfolios have included Health and National Insurance (1976-1981), Education (1981-1985, with the Culture portfolio being added (1985), Senator and Leader of Opposition Business (1986-1991), Deputy Leader of the Opposition (1993-1994), Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade and International Business with the responsibility of Leader of the House of Assembly (1994), Foreign Affairs, Tourism and International Transport (1995), Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade (1999-2008).
At the international level, Dame Billie Miller was the Co-ordinator of CARICOM Ministerial Spokespersons with Responsibility for External Negotiations in Bilateral, African Caribbean and Pacific States-European Union (ACP-EU), World Trade Organization (WTO) and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) matters (appointed February 2002). At the national level, she is a member of the Barbados Family Planning Association, the Barbados National Trust and the Barbados Museum and Historical Society. In the past, she has served as:
- Member of the Council of the University of the West Indies (1981-1986)
- Chairman of the NGO Planning Committee for the International Conference on Population and Development which was held in Cairo, Egypt in 1994
- Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (1996-1999) – the first time a woman has been chairman since its establishment in 1911.
- President of the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region (1991-1993, 1993-1995, 1995-1997)
- Member of the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Central Council, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc.
- Member of the United Nations Population Fund’s Advisory Panel for Activities Concerning Women
- Member of the Inter-American Dialogue
- Chairman of the Inter-American Development Bank’s Advisory Council on Women in Development in Washington (1996-2002)
- The first woman Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (1997-1998)
- President of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States Council of Ministers (1998)
- Chairperson of the Association of Caribbean States’ Ministerial Council (2000-2001)
- Vice-Chairperson of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (2000-2002)
- President of the 32nd Regular Session of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS) held in Barbados (2002)
- Vice Chairperson in the bureau of the Chair of the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference held in Hong Kong, China (2005)
- President of the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Parliamentary Group on Population and Development for the Caribbean and Latin America (1999-2006)
She has received many distinguished awards including: the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal (1977); the Barbados Centennial Award 2000; the Grantley Adams Award for public service (2001 – the highest award given by the Barbados Labour Party); the National Order of Juan Mora Fernandez (2001, Government of Costa Rica); the “Woman of Great Esteem Award” (2002, US-based Q-Kingdom Ministries); and the “Dame Elsie Payne Award of Excellence” (2002 by the Queen’s College Association). She was also named “Grand Officer of the National Order of Benin” (June 2000) and was vested with the title of “Honorary Fellow of the Honors College at Florida International University” (2001) The accolade of Dame of St. Andrew (Barbados’ highest honour) was conferred on her by His Excellency the Governor General on December 1, 2003, in recognition of her distinguished career and her outstanding contribution to Barbados, International Organizations and Politics. Dame Billie was honoured on October 21, 2004, in New York, by the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region during its 50th Anniversary Celebration for her outstanding contribution to the field of Sexual and Reproductive Health. On April 12, 2006, in Washington D.C., she was presented with the Order Bernardo O’Higgins in the rank of Gran Cruz by the Government of Chile for her contribution in the forging of stronger bilateral relations between Barbados and Chile. On June 16, 2006, in New York, the Caribbean Tourism Organization presented her with the Lifetime Achievement Award for her distinguished service to the Caribbean and her promotion of the region as the world’s premier warm-weather destination.
Dame Billie Miller was selected as the Laureate for the United Nations Population Award, 2008, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the awareness of population issues.