The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By Peter Josie

Lu­cille Mathurin Mair, a for­mi­da­ble woman of Ja­maican birth, dis­tin­guished her­self in Saint Lu­cia in the early 1950s by the man­ner she taught, dressed and car­ried her­self, with class and deco­rum. She did much more than im­part knowl­edge. She set a stan­dard of neat­ness, pre­pared­ness and schol­ar­ship which her young charges at the con­vent were anx­ious to em­u­late. She pre­pared her young schol­ars for both the se­nior and ad­vanced level Cam­bridge school cer­tifi­cate ex­am­i­na­tions. At the time an is­land schol­ar­ship was awarded ev­ery other year and this was of­ten won by the top stu­dent from St. Mary’s Col­lege – an all boys sec­ondary school.

It was dur­ing Mathurin Mair’s tute­lage at the con­vent that the is­land schol­ar­ship was won by a girl for the very first time. The year was 1955 and the girl who dis­tin­guished her­self by win­ning that pres­ti­gious schol­ar­ship was none other than Daphne Mon­plaisir, sis­ter of the well-known pro­fes­sional sur­veyor Or­nan Mon­plaisir (de­ceased) and long-serv­ing bar­ris­ter Ken­neth Mon­plaisir QC. It was gen­er­ally ac­knowl­edged that Daphne won the is­land schol­ar­ship aided by the ex­pert teach­ing and coach­ing of Lu­cille Mathurin Mair.

That year a girl’s schol­ar­ship was of­fered for the first time and it was won by one Mil­dred Au­guste, an­other of those young ladies coached by Lu­cille Mathurin Mair. Mathurin Mair holds the record as be­ing the first per­son to teach a course in West Indies His­tory at St. Joseph’s Con­vent, Saint Lu­cia. Per­haps for the first time in their evo­lu­tion, the eyes of the up­wardly mo­bile young ladies at St. Joseph’s Con­vent were opened to the atroc­i­ties of slav­ery, and its par­tic­u­lar sever­ity on the psy­chic of black women. Black women were of­ten lead­ers of slave re­bel­lions and were more feared by the white plan­ta­tion man­ager, due to their cun­ning and in­flu­ence.

An­other for­mer stu­dent who re­mem­bers Mathurin Mair as a spe­cial and gifted teacher is Mar­i­lyn Suther­land (for­merly Mar­i­lyn Hus­bands). “I re­mem­ber Lu­cille Mathurin Mair as a very classy per­son. She taught in a very me­thod­i­cal way. When she came into the class there was no time wast­ing. She came pre­pared to teach and was on top of her sub­ject at all times. As one who spent her whole work­ing life teach­ing I can say that chil­dren gen­er­ally mis­be­have in class when the teacher ap­pears un­pre­pared. I tried hard to fol­low Mathurin Mair’s ex­am­ple dur­ing my years as a teacher and al­ways en­tered my classes well pre­pared.”

Mrs. Suther­land added: “On the off day when I was not feel­ing well or had not pre­pared as well as I should have, I told my stu­dents the truth and al­lowed them to read the sub­ject qui­etly on their own. I taught at May Pen in Ja­maica for one year, then at Wolmer’s Girls’ School for eight years. (Mathurin Mair also taught at Wolmer’s dur­ing her long teach­ing ca­reer). From Wolmer’s I taught at Cas­tries Com­pre­hen­sive Sec­ondary School for four years be­fore go­ing to Bar­ba­dos where I taught at Queens Col­lege for ten years. In my teach­ing ca­reer Lu­cille Mathurin Mair was the teacher whom I most tried to em­u­late.”

Said Mrs. Suther­land: “In my many years of teach­ing, I’ve learnt that when the chil­dren’s at­ten­tion is not held, they get bored very quickly. Hold­ing her stu­dents’ at­ten­tion was Mathurin Mair’s rea­son for suc­cess, in my opin­ion. I taught in­te­grated sci­ences to chil­dren ages 11 to 16 and I don’t mind re­peat­ing that Mathurin Mair’s meth­ods and ap­proach to her work was the model that guided me through­out.”

An­other lit­tle known fact which should tit­il­late those with a pen­chant for lo­cal pol­i­tics is that Ge­orge Od­lum (de­ceased), one of the more lo­qua­cious pub­lic per­form­ers on a po­lit­i­cal plat­form in his time, was also coached by Mathurin Mair who took him through his paces in the field of English Lit­er­a­ture. Od­lum was at the time prepar­ing to write ad­vanced level Lit­er­a­ture. Cour­ses in that sub­ject were not of­fered at St. Mary’s Col­lege, at the time. Od­lum later left the is­land to pur­sue a de­gree in English at Bris­tol Univer­sity in the UK.

On her re­turn to Ja­maica Lu­cille Mathurin Mair worked on staff at the Mona cam­pus of UWI from 1957 to 1974. She was the first co­or­di­na­tor for the Women and De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies Groups of the Univer­sity of the West Indies. Later she served Ja­maica in sev­eral ca­pac­i­ties. She was that is­land’s first fe­male am­bas­sador to the Repub­lic of Cuba (1978). She also served as a mem­ber of the Se­nate and min­is­ter of state in the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs and For­eign Trade in the gov­ern­ment of Ja­maica. In 1975 she joined the Ja­maican Per­ma­nent Mis­sion to the United Na­tions, where she lob­bied for women’s rights. She rep­re­sented Ja­maica as deputy per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the United Na­tions be­tween 1975 and 1978.

Mathurin Mair served as as­sis­tant sec­re­tary gen­eral of the United Na­tions Decade for Women. She was sec­re­tary gen­eral of the World Con­fer­ence of the United Na­tions Decade for Women from 1979 to 1981; and dur­ing the years 1981-1982 she was spe­cial ad­viser to UNICEF on women’s de­vel­op­ment. She was piv­otal in ar­range­ments for the con­fer­ence of women in Bei­jing, China, where First Lady Hil­lary Clin­ton ut­tered the fa­mous words “Hu­man Rights are Women Rights and Women Rights are Hu­man Rights.” Did Ja­maican Mathurin Mair have a hand in the for­mu­la­tion of these words ut­tered by Hil­lary Clin­ton, first lady of the USA, in Bei­jing China?

Mathurin Mair’s pub­lished works in­clude ‘The Rebel Woman in the West Indies dur­ing Slav­ery’ (1995). She pub­lished nu­mer­ous ar­ti­cles on a myr­iad of top­ics at con­fer­ences and sem­i­nars. It has been said of her that her PhD the­sis sig­naled her recog­ni­tion of the marginal­ized sta­tus of women in the lit­er­a­ture on Caribbean his­tory, and it was one of the first mono­graphs de­voted to the study of women and their place in Caribbean his­tory.

There is much more to be said about the life of this great Ja­maican and Caribbean woman. This ar­ti­cle has de­lib­er­ately fo­cused on the tremen­dous im­pres­sion and in­flu­ence Mathurin Mair left on the young women of St. Joseph’s con­vent, Saint Lu­cia, who came un­der her tute­lage and in­flu­ence. The sub­ject was de­lib­er­ately cho­sen with the prayer that her ex­am­ple is fil­tered down to the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of those con­vent girls of the mid to late 50s in the hope that they pass down to the wider so­ci­ety the val­ues ‘Ma Matts’ in­cul­cated in them. To this end it may be use­ful to study the lives and achieve­ments of some of Mathurin Mair’s for­mer stu­dents, in Saint Lu­cia.

Hope­fully such schol­ar­ship and wom­an­hood will con­tinue to cre­ate the as­cen­dency of women in this so­ci­ety, per­chance to el­e­vate the minds and skills of young women in the hope of ren­der­ing them less de­pen­dent on their men­folk for sus­te­nance and sup­port. The grow­ing throng of young men be­ing marched up to darken the walls of Borde­lais prison may well be traced back to moth­ers who had few op­por­tu­ni­ties for a de­scent ed­u­ca­tion, and even less proper so­cial­iza­tion. They there­fore lacked the means to of­fer pos­i­tive in­cen­tives and hope to their boys.

Lu­cille Marthurin Mair, by her quiet de­meanor and in­ci­sive in­tel­lect and pas­sion for women’s is­sues, by the me­thod­i­cal way in which she ap­proached her teach­ing as­sign­ment at St. Joseph’s Con­vent, and by the ex­am­ple she set in her car­riage and bear­ing, may be fairly con­sid­ered as one of the ear­lier torch bear­ers on the is­land for hu­man rights, hu­man dig­nity and em­pow­er­ment of women. It would be wor­thy of em­u­la­tion if the spirit of this for­mi­da­ble Ja­maican woman can be re­cap­tured, as Saint Lu­cia sets its sight on its 39th year of po­lit­i­cal in­de­pen­dence … and be­yond. Please note: Some of this ma­te­rial was taken from the book ‘A His­tor­i­cal Study of Women in Ja­maica 1655-1844’ by Lu­cille Mathurin Mair and edited by McD. Beck­les and Verene A. Shep­herd.

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