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Dalton-James, Edith

Dalton-James, Edith

February 1, 1896
November 5, 1976

Edith Dalton-James was one of the pioneering women of Jamaica during the first half of the twentieth century. She moved beyond merely pursuing a profession tailor-made for women of her times to challenge the status quo by entering the world of politics, the world of men. She was known for her dedication to education and public service and her desire to see Jamaicans become a free and independent people. She believed that women had a significant role to play in the process.

Dalton-James was born of John William and Jeanette Walcott in Townhead (near Savanna-la-Mar), Westmoreland. Her father was a mechanical engineer. In 1919 she married Spencer Wesley James, son of Haughton James, a teacher. The marriage produced a son (Dr. Seymour W. James, Jr.) and two daughters (Marebelle James Mowat and Dr. Joyce James). She was a member of the Anglican Church.

Dalton-James attended school in her community where her performance got her into Shortwood Teachers College before the normal age of matriculation. She attended the college from 1911 to 1914 and graduated with honors. She taught at Unity and Half Way Tree schools with her husband before serving as principal of Chetolah Park Primary School beginning in 1951. She was a schoolteacher for forty years, twenty of which she spent at Chetolah Park. While at Chetolah Park, she attended the London Institute of Education, University of London, and graduated with honors.

She was first and foremost an educator and served Jamaica well in this area. Her investment in the educational system of Jamaica is seen in the offices she held in related local and international organizations, allowing her to voice her position on issues such as corporal punishment in schools. She served four terms as president of the Jamaican Union of Teachers (JUT), three times as president of the Caribbean Union of Teachers, and was a life member of both these associations. She was a uniting force in education in her native land and was instrumental in the development of the Jamaica Teachers Association (JTA, formerly the JUT, which was formed in 1894). Her prowess and pioneering spirit is seen in the fact that she was the only assistant teacher who sat on the Board of Education, and she was the first woman and classroom teacher to become president of the JUT/JTA in 1949. When she became president in 1949, there were several small teachers' associations. She called a joint conference of teachers that resulted in the formation of the Joint Executives of Teachers' Associations (JETA). This eventually became the Jamaica Teachers' Association. She served as vice chair of the Teachers' Mutual Aid Society and was manager of the Teachers' Book Centre, of which she was a founding member. She sat on the advisory board of the Moneague Teacher Training College and Jamaica Advisory Council. She served the Caribbean Union of Teachers as president for two terms, sat on the committee of the International Council for Teachers Education, and was active in the World Conference of the Teaching Profession. She fought for the cause of teachers, and the JTA recognized her work and worth by mounting a plaque in their headquarters building on Church Street in her honor.

Dalton-James carried a vision for a better Jamaica and was not satisfied to operate only in the classroom and through educational associations. She was active in community work and served in a number of social and charitable associations. An important part of her community outreach was her pet project, adult literacy. She also served the Junior Centre of the Institute of Jamaica, the City Mission Orphanage, the Mass Wedding Committee, the Convalescent Society, the Save the Children Fund, and the Women's Liberal Club.

Dalton-James was interested in public affairs and entered politics when adult suffrage was granted. She became a founding member of the People's National Party (PNP) in 1939, was made a life member in 1962, and ran three times as a candidate for the House of Representatives. She was elected to the House of Representatives Legislative Council in 1944. She served until 1949 when she lost her seat to another woman. She again became a member of the Legislative Council from 1959 to 1962. She was to influence other women such as Daphne Campbell, who was a political activist in the 1940s.

Dalton-James's contribution to public affairs and her fellowmen was widely recognized. In 1953 she was awarded the Queen's Coronation Medal, and in 1958, the insignia of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). In 1971 the University of the West Indies conferred on her the honorary Doctor of Laws, and in 1975 the Jamaican government conferred on her the Order of Distinction (Commander Class). Her community service was recognized when in 1977 a community complex on Slipe Pen Road, Kingston, was named in her honor. The complex houses a basic school, a day care center, a library, and a community college. Edith Dalton-James's life commitment was to the cause of teachers, education, and her country. She lived her motto: "work hard; study continuously; service for reward or no reward."

See also Education in the Caribbean; People's National Party


B/N File, Dalton-James, Edith. National Library of Jamaica.

"Edith Dalton-James Dies." Daily Gleaner, November 6, 1976.

"Edith Dalton-James Dies." The Star, November 5, 1976.

"Edith Dalton-James Gets Insignia for Commander of Order of Distinction." Jamaica Daily News, January 17, 1976.

Guy, Henry A., et al. Women in the Caribbean. Kingston, Jamaica: Henry A. Guy, 1966.

"Mrs Dalton-James Buried." Jamaica Daily News, November 11, 1976.

"Mrs Dalton-James Seen as 'Woman of the Hour.'" Daily Gleaner, September 9, 1958.

aleric j. josephs (2005)

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