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.