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The Classics

Women begin to make their mark with by-election

Published:Thursday | March 4, 2021 | 11:54 PM
Mary Morris Knibb

Women begin to make their mark with bye-election

The history of women in politics is long and storied and The Gleaner has been there to tell that story, like in 1939 when the first of those women, Mary Morris Knibb, contested a civic election.

Published March 2, 1939

Three nominated for By-Election

In Speeches Candidates to Make it a ‘Clean’ Campaign
First women contestant adds new page in Island’s political history


Good fortune enabled the first woman to contest a civic election in Jamaica to face the polls in an atmosphere befitting gentility.  Mrs. Morris Knibb remarked on the calm that prevailed during the one hour when Mr. W.H.B. Cathcart received nomination papers in Collegiate Hall yesterday.

The bye-election a week hence promises to be as uneventful as all three contestants for the seat on the Corporation Council (vacated when Mr. E.A.A. Campbell stepped  to the Legislature) have pledged themselves to what is termed a “clean” campaign, but is really intended to mean a non-spirited contest.

The touts and political adherents were present in numbers at Collegiate Hall, but the presence of a strong group of women supporters of Mrs. Knibb, prevented the near vulgarism which, on such a day, is usually regarded as evidence of good humour.

Of the three candidates – Mrs. Knibb, Mr. Chisholm and Mr. C. C. Campbell – it was difficult to tell which was the more confident of success.  Perhaps the supporters of Mrs. Knibb talked the least, showing their feeling in a united spirit of cheerfulness and disregard for the daunted assurances of defeat that were not lacking from voluble agents of the male candidates.

A Pertinent View

“From the beginning of time until today, no woman has ever achieved anything great,” one man observed. “She don’t business in politics,” he declared, as he emphasised his opinion with a stamp of his walking stick.

Women within earshot smiled and made no reply, but one a wit apropos of the remark, observed: “Don’t condemn them too much.  Them bring we into this world.” 

Guffaws from the touts and the incident passed.

During the course of the hour, pamphlets in which the Kingston and St. Andrew Citizen’s Associations presented Mrs. Knibb, were freely circulated.  These pamphlets carried the hitherto unpublished planks of Mrs. Knibb’s platform, which are as follows:

The candidate promises—

To press for enforcement of compulsory education by co-operation with the Education Department. The health and education of the children being matters

which should interest the Corporation.

(2)To urge for the establishment of Free Night Schools; to endeavour to secure help to backward boys and girls beyond the elementary school age.

            (3)To urge the establishment of more Infant Schools in the Corporate Area.

            (4)To urge the establishment of suitable recreation grounds for children.

            (5)To work out suitable plans for industrialising municipal children’s homes.

            (6)To take particular interest in public health.

            (7)To take a firm stand in urging return of Water and Sewer services to the K.S.A.C.

(8) To take an active interest in the social services of the Municipality.


Three Nominated

At 1 o’ clock Mr. Cathcart rose and addressed the gathering.  He said: It being 1 o’ clock  I now declare the nominations closed.  I have accepted nomination papers from James Clinton Chisholm, Mary Leonora Knibb and Cyril Colin Campbell.  There being three nominations and only one vacancy.  I therefore adjourn this election to Wednesday next when the poll of electors will be taken between the hours of eight a.m. and five p.m.

Mrs. Knibb: I have to thank the Returning Officer for the able manner in which he has conducted this nomination.  It has been pleasant to see how calm it has been and I am sure it is through Mr. Cathcart’s own calmness that there is such a spirit pervading this ceremony. I hope that next week, the final day will be just as calm as it has been today.  Sir, I beg to thank you, (applause).

Mr. Chisholm: Mr. Returning Officer, Ladies and Gentlemen: I beg to second the vote of thanks so ably moved by one of my opponent, Mrs. Knibb. I wish to congratulate the Government on appointing you as Returning Officer and I have no fear that an election left in your hands will be carried through in an honest and straight-forward manner.

Desires “Clean” Campaign

I am going to appeal to my supporters in this campaign Mr. Chisholm said, “To let it be clean right through, which is what I have always insisted on in my campaigns.”

            “I believe Mrs. Knibb has every right to come forward for election,

             and I believe Mr. C.C. Campbell has every right to come forward for

            election as long as they are qualified under the law.  I want a clean

            campaign.  I believe I have a record in St. Andrew for fighting a clean

            campaign and I hope next Wednesday I will be returned as your

            representative.” (Applause).

Mr. Campbell: Sir this is the second occasion on which I have had the pleasure of supporting a vote of thanks to you. I do so well satisfied in my mind that you will carry out your duties with impartiality and experience. It is fitting at this time that a lady should precede me.  Gentility and manhood allow us to give the weaker sex the opportunity to  express themselves first and to take precedence in many instances as against a man.  I am sorry that I did not hear the lady’s speech, but I feel sure, having regard to the ovation she was given, that her remarks were well received. You have heard Mr. Chisholm and I endorse all he said about fighting a clean battle.  So far as I am able to determine my two opponents in this contest are, one a lady, the other a gentleman, and I feel that the public are the jury to determine which of us is the most fit to represent them.  (Hear hear). I am only asking you now to give each and every one of us who have come forward, a good hearing.  Give us equal hearing and then out of the fullness of your heart determine which of us is the fit and proper candidate to serve your purposes.

This is not the occasion on which to make an election speech and I would be failing in my duty if I attempt to do so and I only ask you to be fair to Mrs. Morris Knibb, be fair to Mr. Chisholm and give me a little chance (applause).

An Appeal to Agents

“I thank you for your kind expressions of opinion in regard to me,” said Mr. Cathcart replying; “and I can only assure you, as I have done on previous occasions that I will give to the election my best ability and effort.  As I have said previously, I depend on candidates and their agents to see that no improper voting takes place.  I was pleased to see at the last election there were only thirteen persons who apparently voted twice, which is a reduction on the number I have heretofore had. I must again appeal to agents to see, in their zeal, that voters are well identified before they send them in to the poll, as the offence, if committed, is a serious one incurring heavy penalties.

I thank the candidates and hope that they and their agents will help me to conduct the election properly, (applause).

Miss Daphnie Wallace, an old pupil of Mrs. Knibbs’ school, presented to her a beautiful bouquet of flowers, saying: “On behalf of the many boys and girls of Kingston and St. Andrew whom Mrs. Knibb, through her keen interest in scholastic ability, has placed on the high road to success, I want to present her with this little token of our appreciation and to wish her every success in her campaign."