As ‘Women’s History Month’ continues I’m highlighting an amazing woman from Dominica called Mary Eugenia Charles. This exquisite, intelligent, beautiful lady was the first black woman to lead a nation in the world. The youngest of four children born on 15th May 1919 in the fishing village of Pointe Michel in Dominica. Her father John-Baptiste Charles was a mason, became a wealthy landowner with an import and export business, he eventually founded a cooperative bank, became Roseau’s Mayor and legislator, her mother Josephine Charles was a homemaker, owned a grocery store and bakery³
Charles’ educational achievements included a ‘Bachelor of Law (LLB obtained in 1947) from the University of Toronto, a ‘Masters’ in Law (LLM received in 1949) from the London School of Economics. Her interest in politics developed in 1968 upon the realisation that the Dominica Labour Party was attempting to have a Sedition Act passed, which would have led to the freedom of the press being seriously limited. Charles opposed the Act together with a group known at the time as the ‘Freedom Fighters’ who eventually changed their name to the Dominica Freedom Party and elected her to be its leader..
She became Dominica’s first female lawyer. co-founded the Dominica Freedom Party in 1972, aided her country into relinquishing colonial rule in November, 1978. Charles became Prime Minister of Dominica from 1980 for three terms, (15 years). She was known as ‘The Iron Lady of The Caribbean’ due to her forthrightness and determination to improve and get things done on the island.
Charles retired from public office in 1995, and lectured at the John Hopkins School of International Studies. She was a member of the sorority Sigma Gamma Rho. She led a peace mission with former President Jimmy Carter to Haiti, opened a women’s centre at Harvard University, was on the team of distinguished commonwealth leaders looking at parliamentary revisions and norms, and was heavily involved in her own charitable work³ .
Knighted Dame Mary Eugenia Charles by Queen Elizabeth II at Harare, in Zimbabwe in 1991, she was also conferred the ‘Order of The Caribbean Community’ in 2003. Charles had her perception as to what constituted a good leader, “An evaluation of the life of Dame Eugenia Charles reveals that she has herself lived up to her own conception of the qualities of a good leader, and that is, “Leaders must look after the things that need looking after without looking after themselves.”²
Judging by what Charles accomplished for her beloved country Dominica, it can be viewed that she was the epitome of great leadership. Charles died on 6 September 2005 on the island of Martinique from complications of a broken hip, she was 86 years old.
- In reading this article about Mary Eugenia Charles and her conception of a leader, do you think you could be a leader to bring about positive change in your neighbourhood/community/town/country?
- If so, have you identified what needs to change, are you involved in assisting this change and if not why?
Until next time, remember you are beautiful and wonderfully made – With love Amanda x
Amanda Alexander – Founder of Elect Lady Ministries, Female Dignity & Amanda Alexander Productions
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