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Morris Knibb, Mary

Morris Knibb, Mary

1886
1964


Mary Lenora Morris Knibb was one of the pioneering and vocal women of pre-independent Jamaica who challenged the race and gender status quo. She was in the forefront of social and political activism in the 1930s and the 1940s and the first woman to contest electoral politics in Jamaica.

Born in Newmarket, St. Elizabeth, she married Zechariah Knibb, a sanitary foreman. She was a Moravian, and her commitment to the church was evident to the time of her death, when she left her legacy to the church. As a Moravian she was well placed to the education she needed to qualify her for entry into Shortwood Teachers College. She was already a teacher at the age of twenty-one years. She taught at Saint Georges School from 1907 to 1917 and at the Wesley School from 1917 to 1928. Her pioneering spirit led her in 1928 to establish her own school, the Morris-Knibb Preparatory School, which she operated out of her own home in Woodford Park, St Andrew.

As a social and political activist in Jamaica, Morris Knibb organized, with Amy Bailey, the Women's Liberal Club in 1936 with the aim of training young women. The Women's Liberal Club was only one of the social and charitable organizations with which she was associated. She founded the Shortwood Old Girls' Association, was a member of the Women Teachers' Association, and served as vice president of the Jamaica Federation of Women. She was also associated with the Jamaica Save the Children Fund.

Much of Morris Knibb's work was devoted to the elevation of women and their children. The Women's Liberal Club provided the support she need to successfully agitate for women's entry into the public arena. Through the Women's Liberal Club, she sought to change the condition of lower-class young women by offering training in homemaking skills. She looked after the interest of middle-class women by encouraging the Women Teachers' Federation within the Jamaica Union of Teachers (JUT).

Because of her work among middle- and lower-class women and her association with other women in other service organizations, Knibb was aware of the class and race differences among women in Jamaica, and this awareness sometimes brought her in conflict with middle-class women over their attitude to black women. She was especially prepared, therefore, to give informed testimony to the Moyne Commission of 19381939. Her social awareness, interest in the well-being of women, and social activism qualified her for entry into the political arena. In 1939 she was elected to the Kingston and St. Andrew Corporation (KSAC), and by 1944 she had graduated to being the representative for East St. Andrew in the Jamaica Legislative Council. She ran as an independent candidate who was nominated by the club she had helped to form.

See also Education; Politics

Bibliography

Levy, Owen L., and D. G. Wood, eds. Personalities in the Caribbean. Kingston, Jamaica: Personalities Ltd, 1962.

Shepherd, Verene A. ed. Women in Caribbean History. Kingston, Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 1999.

Vassell, Linette. Voices of Women in Jamaica, 18981939. Kingston, Jamaica: Department of History, University of West Indies, 1993.

aleric j. josephs (2005)

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