Barrow, Nita (1916–1995)

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Barrow, Nita (1916–1995)

Dame of St. Andrew, Grand Commander of Saint Michael and Saint George, who was the first female governor-general of Barbados. Name variations: Dame Nita Barrow. Born Ruth Nita Barrow on November 15, 1916, in Barbados; died on December 19, 1995, in Barbados; daughter of Bishop Reginald Barrow (an Anglican priest and political martyr); sister of Errol Barrow (who led Barbados to political independence); attended St. Michael's Girls School, 1928; attended Columbia University, New York City; University of Toronto, Canada; Edinburgh University, Scotland.

Held nursing and public health posts in Barbados and Jamaica (1940–56); was matron of the University Hospital in Jamaica (1954); served as principal nursing officer, Jamaica (1956–62); was nursing adviser, Pan American Health Organization (1967–71); worked as associate director, Christian Medical Commission of World Council of Churches, Geneva (1971–75); served as director, Christian Medical Commission of World Council of Churches, Geneva (1975–80); served as health consultant, World Health Organization (1981–86); was permanent representative of Barbados to United Nations (1986–90); served as governor-general of Barbados (1990–95). Also served as president of the World YWCA (1973–83); president of the International Council for Adult Education (1982); president of the World Council of Churches (1983); member of the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons on South Africa (1986).

Nita Barrow was born into a family bound by a tradition of civic activism: her father was Bishop Reginald Barrow whose outspoken criticism of the social inequities of his time led to his being persecuted by political and ecclesiastical powers in Barbados and abroad; her maternal uncle was Dr. Charles Duncan O'Neal, a champion of the underprivileged and disenfranchised in Barbados during the 1930s; and her cousin Hugh Springer was her immediate predecessor as governor-general. Barrow's own commitment to service was based on her profound love of people. At a time when nursing was one of the few employment alternatives available to women, she distinguished herself in public health and the training and administration of nurses in the Caribbean. She gave encouragement to women by attaining prominent positions both in Barbados and abroad, and was the first black woman to ever become president of the World Council of Churches.

A Woman's life can really be a succession of lives, each revolving around some emotionally compelling situation or challenge, and each marked off by some intense experience.

—Nita Barrow

On June 6, 1990, Dame Nita became Barbados' first female governor-general. As a diplomat, she was highly respected internationally for her community service, her work in the women's movement, and her involvement in the struggle against apartheid. In her role as governor-general, she impacted all walks of life and took pride in her country. In spite of international acclaim, she never lost touch with the common people and was greatly loved by Barbadians. Each Christmas, Barrow spent time visiting the almshouses and the home for the infirm and took particular delight and interest in children. "Any one who has ever asked Nita for the telephone number or address of one of her friends soon looks on in amazement at the address book which she produces," wrote Francis Blackman. The thick, leather-bound volume, held together by an elastic band, was "Nita's link with the world." As one journalist put it: she was a woman "for all people and the people's governor-general." On December 19, 1995, Dame Nita Barrow died after suffering a massive stroke while attending the annual Christmas Gala of the Royal Barbados Gazetted Officers.


The Barbados Advocate. December 1995.

Blackman, Francis. Dame Nita: Caribbean Woman, World Citizen, 1995.

Nation. December 1995.

Walters, Ena. A History of Nursing in Barbados. Barbados: Caribbean Graphic Production, 1995.

Joan Francis , Professor of History and coordinator of Women Studies at Atlantic Union College, South Lancaster, Massachusetts

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Barrow, Nita (1916–1995)

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