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King, Iris

King, Iris


King was the eldest child of Thomas and Rebecca Ewart and the sister of the dean of West Indian cricket umpires, Tom Ewart. She grew up in Eastern Kingston. She completed her early education at Kingston Technical School in 1933 and shortly thereafter married S. Herman King. While her first career was that of wife and mother to four children, King drifted immediately into Jamaican party politics. She entered the world of local politics in 1938, the year the People's National Party (PNP) was born, and she became an active political campaigner for this party.

Iris King's life and career were centered around her contributions to public life. In 1947 she was elected a councillor of the Kingston and Saint Andrew Corporation (KSAC). When her term as councillor ended in 1950, she enrolled at Roosevelt University in Chicago for a course in public administration. After three years she earned a degree in municipal administration and political science. The Sunday Gleaner of December 28, 1958, observed that because of her degree King could be described as the only trained politician in Jamaica.

King returned to Jamaica from Chicago in 1955 in time to become a candidate in the general elections. She ran against the National Labour Party (NLP) candidate Kenneth George Hill and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) candidate Hugh Shearer for the West Kingston seat. King finished a close second to Shearer with 5,246 votes to his 6,383; Hill polled 3,262 votes. Losing the seat to Shearer, King returned to municipal politics, winning back with overwhelming support her seat in the KSAC.

On April 9, 1958, Iris King had the distinction of becoming the first female mayor of the city of Kingston. She was the forty-first person to occupy this chair. Photographs of King from this period show a smiling and well-dressed woman with an expansively warm personality. Newspaper reports consistently remarked on her sincerity and kindness coupled with the toughness required for political life. Just after her election as mayor of Kingston, the April 10, 1958, issue of The Daily Gleaner reported: "It was obvious to political observers even from the early days that Iris King would be a force to be reckoned with and that her 'leonine' platform qualities, her kindliness, her toughness and charity, would take her far up the political ladder."

A major reason for the recognition she was given was her work with the underprivileged people of Western Kingston, where she focused particularly on improving conditions for children. Partly due to this work, she was appointed chair of the Maxfield Park Children's Home, a facility that, as mayor, she both expanded and developed.

After her election as mayor she was invited by the U.S. government to spend two months on a study tour of the United States. The November 2, 1958, issue of Jamaica's Sunday Gleaner reported that on October 1, 1958, she was presented with a key to the city of Washington, D.C., by District Commissioner David Karrick during an official ceremony held in her honor.

In 1959 King again entered the election platform as the PNP candidate for the constituency of Kingston West Central against Arthur Smith of the JLP. She won this seat with 7,320 votes against her opponent's 4,894, helping her party to win twenty-nine of the forty-five seats contested that year. She was also named a member of Prime Minister Norman Manley's cabinet. The PNP was defeated in 1962, and King left politics in 1967 and immigrated to the United States, where she obtained employment as a hospital administrator.

Iris King ranks with such pioneer women politicians as Mary Morris Knibb, Rose Leon (the first woman to become a government minister), Edith Dalton James, and Iris Collins-Williams (the first woman elected to the House of Representatives). Although present in political history, the records reveal very little of the contributions of women like King. After her achievements as mayor, parliamentarian, and cabinet member, she faded from the public records and from the memories of many Jamaicans.

See also Dalton-James, Edith; Leon, Rose; Manley, Norman; Morris Knibb, Mary; People's National Party; Politics


"Her Worship." The Daily Gleaner (April 10, 1958).

"Iris King: The Long Ladder of Service." The Daily Gleaner (May 3, 1958).

"Iris KingPolitical Personality 1956." The Sunday Gleaner (December 28, 1958).

patricia mohammed (2005)

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