February 12, 1896
June 24, 1968
Born to parents of Trinidad and Tobago's small, black property-owning class, Audrey Layne Jeffers completed her primary and secondary education at Tranquillity Girls' Practising School before proceeding to London in 1913 to complete a diploma in social science at Alexander College, North Finchley. During World War I she served among the West African troops and through the West India Committee organized a West African Soldiers Fund and Cigarette Fund. After the war she joined the Society of Peoples of African Origin, formed by fellow Trinidadian F. E. M. Hercules.
Upon her return to Trinidad and Tobago in 1920, Jeffers established a school serving black middle-class children, earning a reputation as a teacher of excellence. Deeply affected by the poverty in wider Port of Spain (the capital of Trinidad and Tobago) and influenced by religion and social work—upper- and middle-strata women's only legitimate spheres of public activity—in 1921 she founded Trinidad and Tobago's most important women's organization of the early twentieth century, the Coterie of Social Workers (COSW).
The COSW allowed Jeffers to combine her concern with women, her compassion for the less fortunate, and her ongoing concern with persons of African descent. Coterie membership comprised women of the respectable black and colored communities, who by the mid-1930s were being excluded from careers in teaching and the civil service. The Trinidad and Tobago Education Act of 1934, for example, prohibited married women from permanent employment except in certain circumstances.
Coterie activities included the establishment of the St. Mary's Home for Blind Girls and Women in 1928, the Maud Reeves Hostel for Working Girls in 1935, Anstey House for Respectable Young Ladies, and in the 1940s, Faith House, a rest house and training center for women.
A high point in Jeffers's career came in 1936. In March of that year, she was an honored guest of the Negro Progress Convention in British Guiana, marking the one hundredth anniversary of slave emancipation. She addressed the convention's women's session on the topic "Women and their Responsibility to the Race." In May the Coterie hosted the First Conference of British West Indies and British Guiana Women Social Workers in Port of Spain, the first major women's conference in the English-speaking Caribbean. The conference's recommendations included the introduction of a girl's open scholarship for higher education, the establishment of a women's police force, and increased employment for educated black women.
In October, after a challenge to her eligibility, Jeffers became the first woman elected to the Port of Spain Municipal Council. In 1946 she would become the first woman nominated to the Legislative Council. She also served as honorary counsel for the Republic of Liberia. The COSW submission to the 1938 West India Royal Commission called for the establishment of a girls' college to prepare girls for the Island Scholarship, government provision of clothing to needy children, and equal numbers of women and men on the Board of (Film) Censors. One blot on Jeffers's career was her failure to support universal adult suffrage in 1946.
In 1956, in response to the political federation of the British Caribbean colonies, a Caribbean Women's Association was formed at Jeffers's instigation "to provide the women of the Caribbean with a representative national organization dedicated to the principle that women must play a vital role in the development and life of the Caribbean community" (Henderson, 1973, p. 14). In 1953 Amy Ashwood Garvey hailed Jeffers as "a long-standing feminist and No. 1 social worker in the West Indies" (Port of Spain Gazette, May 30). Jeffers received the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in 1929, the OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in 1959, and Trinidad and Tobago's Chaconia Gold Medal for social service posthumously in 1969.
See also Social Work
Comma-Maynard, Olga. The Brierend Pattern: The Story of Audrey Jeffers O.B.E. and the Coterie of Social Workers. Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago: Busby Printerie, 1971.
Henderson, Thelma. "The Role of Women in Politics in Trinidad and Tobago: 1925–1972." Caribbean Studies thesis. St. Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago: University of the West Indies, 1973.
Port of Spain Gazette (May 30, 1953).
Reddock, Rhoda. Women, Labour, and Politics in Trinidad and Tobago: A History. London: Zed Books, and Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publications, 1984.
rhoda e. reddock (2005)