MARCH 8 marks International Women’s Day. To commemorate the occasion, we will be writing a series of interviews of Women in Law for the month of March.
The writer was invited to deliver a public lecture on Marie Grace Augustin at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College last year. Incidentally, the subject passed away in March 1996 at age 98t. Here is an extract from that speech:
The Augustin family welcomed their seventh child, Marie Grace Augustin on 2nd June 1897; they would have four more children, eight girls and three boys in all.
Marie Grace was described by her siblings as inquisitive, curious and ‘too fast’.
She was a tomboy who loved horses, cows and swimming. One writer described her as carefree and happy as a child on her parents’ estate in D’aubayan in Micoud.
The middle farming sector of the population was always keen to provide education for their children. For this sector of the population the elementary school was the most probable avenue for learning basic literacy and numeracy.
Marie Grace received her secondary school education in Antigua in 1912. She passed the Preliminary Local Examination in Religious Knowledge, English (Grammar, Composition, and Author), History, Geography, French, Algebra Freehand and Model Drawing.
After high school, she studied for three years to be a nurse and midwife securing her midwifery certificate on 29th October 1918 from Victoria Hospital.
The health services provided more opportunities for women to get work. Women were encouraged to take up nursing and teaching. This is the only time that Marie Grace would fall into the usual pattern already established by society, as she must have seen the need for being in such a caring profession in times of war and trifle.
Her brother, Elwin Augustin is described in the literature as a ‘brilliant lawyer’ and was Marie Grace’s motivation to study law. She articled at his chambers for three years and presented herself at the Registrar’s office to do the bar exams in 1923. She is famously told by Acting Chief Justice J.E.M Solomon that the law does not provide for women to become lawyers. No doubt Justice Solomon is turning over in his grave now, with the upsurge of female legal practitioners in Saint Lucia and around the world. Had the Acting Chief Justice been more progressive, Marie Grace could have been the first female legal practitioner in the island. Instead that honour goes to Daisy Borman in the 1940s.
Her younger sister Olive was the only other sibling not to marry, and they lived together until Marie Grace’s death. She was a pioneer in her own right, in the field of nursing and medicine. She said about her sister Marie Grace:
“Grace has done more, as a woman of her time, than any other I have heard or read about…”
When one door closes, jump through the window…
The legal profession may not have been ready to welcome women in 1923, and no doubt Marie Grace would have been frustrated with this turn of events. She would later sit on the Legislative Board and be the first female nominated parliamentarian, thereby demonstrating that studying law had its uses.
What the law does provide is an avenue: to think, analyse and consider things from varying perspectives. And Marie Grace was innovative in many regards, using her natural and learnt skills of analysis and not accepting the status quo to good use.
The well-known story that travelling to and from Castries took two days by horse; this was reduced to four hours when Marie Grace ordered a motor cycle from England.
In her mind, there was always a way to save time, and make the lives of those around her easier. With the passing of her brother, she offered to manage her parents’ estates. Women did not own or manage large estates in the 1920s and 1930s. She was the first to achieve this milestone in Saint Lucia.
She also believed in doing things well. A hard worker, she used her skills as a nurse and mid-wife to give basic training to some of her workers and opened a small clinic and grocery shop on the estate. This way, the workers and those living in surrounding areas had the option of purchasing basic food supplies at the shop and/ or visiting the doctor who visited bi-weekly, instead of the long trip to Castries.
Does size matter?
Marie Grace stood at five feet and weighed ninety pounds. Her nickname (because everyone in Saint Lucia eventually has one) was ‘Petite’. Did she compensate for her short stature by achieving greatness?
Marie Grace said once:
“For a short person like me, I climbed the ladder pretty high. But then, I had to. It was the only way I could see, over the heads of the crowd around me! How else could I see what needed to be done?”
Marie Grace Augustin achieved many ‘firsts’:
She was the first female nominated parliamentarian;
– first lady to join the St. Lucia Cricket Club;
– first female member of the St. Lucia Legislature;
She sat on many boards and committees including:
– Director of the Coconut Growers’ Association
– Copra Manufacturers’ Ltd
– Banana Growers’ Association
– Agricultural Credit Fund
– Augustin Sisters’ Investment fund
Marie Grace passes away
When Marie Grace Augustin passed away on 30 March 1996, she was ninety eight years old. She would have turned 99 in a few short months (June 2).
The eulogy at her funeral was delivered by the late Lady Marilyn Floissac and printed in The VOICE on 1 April 1996. The tribute was titled, ‘She was quite a lady’.
The writer humbly adds that she was certainly a lady of strong and unwavering values. Family was important to her, making a contribution to her society and enriching the lives of those around her. She thought outside the box, and developed her own identity and was well-established as a mover and shaker in the society at the time. She received an OBE in 1957, an achievement not usually bestowed on women for her more active years in service. A lady of stamina, strength, and independent thinking and vision. Marie Grace thought of ways to work with what was available to make life a richer experience for her society.
Ms. Trudy O. Glasgow is a practising attorney at the law firm Trudy O. Glasgow & Associates, a court-appointed mediator and author in Saint Lucia (and has also taught law at University level in the UK)* This column is for general use only, for advice specifically for your case, please see your lawyer.
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Next week: Women in law, Part 1: Chief Registrar of the Court of Appeal, Mrs. Kimberly Cenac-Phulgence