Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Doris Johnson and The Women’s Suffrage Movement in The Bahamas

Doris Johnson’s Role In The Suffrage Movement

Tribune242 Editorial
Nassau, The Bahamas

ON SUNDAY Prime Minister Perry Christie spoke at a special Bethel Baptist Church service to commemorate National Women’s Month and the 50th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement in the Bahamas.
Lawyer Marion Bethel has worked long and hard on gathering information to put this movement into its historical context. She has produced a documentary for the record and has sent a letter to the Prime Minister suggesting that a woman representative from each of the two political parties in the House read Dr Doris Johnson’s speech to the House — a speech that Dr Johnson, being a “stranger” to the House — was not allowed to deliver by a UBP government.
If Mrs Bethel’s suggestion is accepted no rules of the House will be bent and no precedents set as the proposal is for women House members to read the Johnson speech. Many think that this is a vindication of Dr Johnson, who not being a member of the House, would have been setting a precedent if she were allowed to walk in and address the chamber. Added to which when she made her request the petition for a woman’s right to vote was already on the House agenda for first reading that day.
Dr Johnson’s plan was to have herself admitted to the floor of the House and in a speech launch the woman’s right to vote petition. Dr Johnson had just returned that week from university and, as she told several people at the time, was better educated than the women who had worked so hard over the years to push women’s rights. Dr Johnson felt that with her education she should be the one to take over the movement. Hence her suggestion to the suffragettes that she be allowed to address the House. The suffragettes agreed. In the House Lynden Pindling asked for the unanimous consent of members to agree to a petition from the suffragettes to allow Dr Johnson to address them.
Speaker Bobby Symonette said that the women’s petition would have to go to committee, the committee would have to report and the House could then adopt the report.
The debate went back and forth — there was a bit of tit-for-tat involved as earlier Sir Milo Butler had objected to Roy Solomon’s motion to spend £9,000 to entertain Prince Philip. It was now the turn of the UBP to object to the PLP’s petition, which is what they did in the case of the Johnson address.
However, in the end the matter was settled on precedent and the speech was delivered, but not in the House.
In reporting Mr Christie’s weekend address at Bethel our reporter wrote in yesterday’s Tribune:
“Doris Johnson’s 1959 address represented a turning point in the movement. It was delivered on the same day she and a group of suffragettes marched to the House of Assembly to present a petition to the government.
“The governing United Bahamian Party refused to have her address the House. To an audience of willing parliamentarians, led by Sir Lynden Pindling, Dame Doris delivered the petition and her address in a neighbouring magistrate’s court.”
If Mrs Mary Ingraham, one of the founders and chairman of the Movement, had been alive she would have been on the telephone to her good friend, the late Sir Etienne Dupuch, bristling with anger.
She would have been furious with The Tribune for “slanting the news” to make it seem that it was Sir Lynden and the PLP that had supported Bahamian women in their fight for human rights.
Mrs Ingraham, and her small band of women, had fought hard for many years to keep the movement out of politics, and here we were reporting in a way that gave the impression that it was a PLP fight on their behalf. Mrs Ingraham, a UBP did not go to her representative Sir Stafford Sands to present the petition in the House. Rather she selected Sir Gerald Cash to present the petition because he was an independent member.
Within the movement Doris Johnson, and the manner in which she elbowed the founders to the sidelines, was always a sore point within the movement — particularly with Mary Ingraham.
If Mrs Ingraham were alive today, she would have insisted that Sir Etienne reprint her 1975 letter “to keep the record straight and let the people know.”
In 1962 she presented a plaque to Sir Etienne on which these words were inscribed:
“To Sir Etienne Dupuch - In appreciation for his active part through the media of his newspaper in helping me and my colleagues in obtaining the vote for women.
“Sufferage Movement started 1952.
“Vote granted June 30, 1962.”
It was signed by Mary N. Ingraham, Mildred B Donaldson and Rev HW Brown.
And so, as she and Sir Etienne would have wished, “to keep the record straight” Mrs Ingraham’s 1975 letter follows:
“During this period (1951-52) meetings were held and signatures obtained. Dr Doris Johnson was away at school and had no activities involving this movement whatsoever.
“Signatures obtained were from Saint Hilda’s Chapter, Curfew Lodge, Star of the East Lodge of Samaritans.
“Active members were Mrs JK Symonette, vice president, Ms Eugenia Lockhart, secretary/treasurer, and Mrs Mary Ingraham, president.
“They were working together for many years until the announcement was made that the Secretary of State for the Colonies, the Hon Lennox Boyd, was to arrive (April, 1958).
“Mary Ingraham made arrangements for an appointment with Mr Lennox-Boyd through Mr K M Wamsley, the then Colonial Secretary for the Colonies.
“The ladies that waited on Mr Lennox-Boyd to present him with the second petition was Mrs JK Symonette, Mrs Eugenia Lockhart, Mrs Mary Ingraham, president.
“After presenting the petition to him he assured us that it would be dealt with in the House of Commons, to which I have a receipt to prove where it was debated. After Mr Lennox-Boyd’s departure I was a member of the UBP party, but I never wished to force my will on anyone, even my children. I wouldn’t call on the late Sir Stafford Sands being my representative at that time.
“I, therefore, called on the Hon. Gerald Cash and asked him to present the petition to the House of Assembly for me because he was an independent member of the House.
“He accepted. I sent the petition to Mr Cash containing 9,500 signatures, which he presented to the House with notice to be read at the next meeting.
“In that week, Dr Doris Johnson arrived from school and Mrs JK Symonette brought her to the meeting and discussed the activities of the petition coming up for its first reading. Dr Johnson suggested we allow her to address the Assembly before the petition was read. It was a rough morning in the House. Sir Milo Butler objected to the motion by Mr Roy Solomon to spend £9,000 to entertain Prince Philip, therefore, when it was time for Dr Johnson to make her address, Mr Roy Solomon, therefore, objected to the ladies being allowed to address the Assembly.
“Sir Roland Symonette, then being Premier, went over to the Magistrate’s Court and got the Magistrate to vacate the courtroom, and brought the members of the House over to the Magistrate’s court to listen to the address of the ladies.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the only part Dr Johnson played in the vote for the women. And when the motion came for a vote in the House of Assembly not one member of the PLP government, including the Prime Minister (Pindling) voted for the women to vote. Instead every (PLP) member walked out.
“Therefore how can Women’s Week be celebrated by this PLP government.”
November 06, 2012