March 8, 1912
Through her work for the betterment of the working class and of children, and through her association and partnership with one of Jamaica's leading politicians, Sir Alexander Bustamante, Lady Gladys Bustamante contributed a great deal to the building of independent Jamaica. She has been acclaimed as a woman of quiet strength and courage, of dedication and loyalty, qualities she has demonstrated in her faithful service to her employer and husband throughout his struggle for workers' rights and self-government, and in her persistence in the face of adversity.
Lady Bustamante was born Gladys Maud Longbridge in Ashton, Westmoreland, the child of James Longbridge and Rebecca Blackwood-Longbridge. Her grandparents raised her from an early age, as her mother had migrated to Cuba and her father worked as an overseer in the parish of St. Mary. She attended primary school in Ashton until she was fifteen, and later she attended the now defunct Tutorial Secondary and Commercial College in Kingston. She studied accounting, shorthand, typewriting, music, and Spanish. She was raised as a Moravian, but she later became a Roman Catholic.
Lady Bustamante began her working life in 1928 as a pupil teacher in her old school in Ashton, before going to Kingston to further her education there. She worked for a brief time in Montego Bay in 1934 before returning to Kingston, where she was temporarily employed at the Arlington House Hotel and Restaurant as a typist, clerk, and cashier. In 1936, at the age of twenty-four, she accepted a job in Bustamante's Loan and Securities Company. She served as Alexander Bustamante's secretary for twenty-seven years both in his business and in his later work in trade unionism and politics. She served in that capacity until he became the first prime minister of independent Jamaica in 1962, the same year that she became his wife (he was seventy-eight years old at the time).
It was in Montego Bay that Lady Bustamante became aware of the sharp class and race divide in Jamaica, and her work at the hotel had allowed her to overhear discussions of many of the leading players in the evolving movement toward self-government. This exposure informed her interest in changing the circumstances of the working class, but it was her engagement as Bustamante's secretary that catapulted her into nation building. Just a few years after she entered his employ, in 1938, the workers' riots in Jamaica pushed her employer into trade unionism and politics and placed her in the path of greatness. She was unsuccessful, however, in her one attempt to be elected to political office. While she did not serve in the nation's parliament, she was very much in the forefront of the birth of the nation, for she was actively involved in the initiating of the activities that would lead to independence. Following independence, she continued to use her position as the wife of the prime minister to great influence. For example, she was instrumental in the changing of the regulation that prevented women from working after marriage.
Lady Bustamante adopted her husband's interest in trade unionism and politics, making his life's work hers. She is reported to have challenged the police in defense of Bustamante during the 1938 uprising, and she was actually placed on the list for those to be sent to a detention camp. She was beside him throughout his fight with the Colonial Office for equity in the workplace, adult suffrage, and the achievement of nationhood. Her position not only allowed her to gain invaluable knowledge, but she was also able to help him in processing the information he received and in deciding on the best course of action. She refused to be an office-based secretary and accompanied him on his visits with workers and to meetings. She mingled with crowds and received first-hand knowledge of the people's plight and of their responses to Bustamante's speeches. This must have stood him in good stead in his political life, and he often credited her with his success.
Her exposure to the world of the working class made her into a trade union advocate. This, and her frequent travels into rural Jamaica with Sir Alexander as he laid the foundations for the Bustamante Industrial Trade Union (BITU) and the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), made her eminently suitable to serve as a trustee, and as treasurer, of the BITU. She also led the BITU while Bustamante, then her employer, was in detention. She also served in the upper echelons of the JLP (founded in 1943). She was a member of the executive committee and a trustee of the party's Old Age Pension Committee, before becoming a life member in 1977.
Lady Bustamante's awareness of the needs of the poor and destitute led her into social work. She has served as patron of the Bustamante Hospital for Children for several years. She has not only worked for the betterment of the families of port workers, she has sought to uplift the communities in the sugar belt and worked to improve the care of children of destitute parents. While she has no children of her own, she has acted as godmother for some fifty-three children. Her treats (parties) for children and the indigent during the holiday season are well known.
Lady Bustamante has received renown both as wife of a former prime minister and national hero of Jamaica and in her own right as humanitarian and social worker. Her work has been recognized both inside and outside of Jamaica. In 1979 she received the nation of Jamaica's fourth highest honor, the Order of Jamaica (OJ), only the second woman to do so. Her other honors include the Harmony in the Homes Movement Model Family Trophy for widows (1985), awarded to her because of her exemplary family life. She also received the Golden Orchid Award from the government of Venezuela. Appreciation has been shown by the Lion Club of Kingston (1968), Committee for Christian Education of New York and Jamaica, the New York Freedom League (1984), and Young Jamaica. In addition, a hybrid bougainvillea was named for her—the Lady Bustamante is strawberry red in color. In more recent years she has served as patron of the Women Trade Fair and Exhibition. She lives in her home, Belencita, in Irish Town in the St. Andrew Hills.
See also Bustamante, Alexander
Bustamante, Lady Gladys Maud. The Memoirs of Lady Bustamante. Kingston, Jamaica: Kingston Publishers Ltd., 1997.
Guy, Henry A., and Lavern Bailey. Women of Distinction in Jamaica. Kingston, Jamaica: Caribbean Herald, 1977.
Guy, Henry A., et al. Women in the Caribbean. Kingston, Jamaica: Henry A. Guy, 1966.
Jamaica Directory of Personalities, 1992-1993. 4th ed. Kingston, Jamaica: Selecto Publications Ltd., 1993.
Lambie, Shelly. "Lady B: Great Faith in My Jamaicans." Sunday Gleaner (July 31, 1983).
Marbella, Margua. "Lady B Honoured in New York and Sir Alex Remembered." Gleaner (March 24, 1984).
Neita, Hartley. "Saluting an Outstanding Matriarch of Jamaica." Gleaner (March 11, 1996).
aleric j. josephs (2005)
"Longbridge-Bustamante, Gladys." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 17, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/longbridge-bustamante-gladys
"Longbridge-Bustamante, Gladys." Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History. . Retrieved February 17, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/longbridge-bustamante-gladys
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