Tue | Nov 30, 2021
Women of Distinction

Amy Bailey champions education as means to equality for women

Published:Sunday | March 14, 2021 | 9:12 PMLennox Aldred/Gleaner Writer
Amy Bailey

Passing by the Amy Bailey (Model) Basic School on Camp Road in Kingston, one would probably not think twice about the woman behind the name.

However, the school's namesake, Amy Bailey, was a Jamaican educator, social worker and women's rights advocate, who dedicated her life and work to the development of Jamaica’s social structure.

The famed educator took an open and articulate stand against racial discrimination of and among black people.

As one of the first and few persons to openly critique not just white-on-black but also brown-on-black discrimination, Bailey emerged as an influential intellect early in the Women's Anti-Racism movements in Jamaica.

Born November 27, 1895, some would say Bailey was destined to become an educator, as not only were both her parent's teachers, but her father was also the founder of the Jamaica Union of Teachers.

He encouraged all of his children to become teachers, as there were few other opportunities open to black Jamaicans during that time.

After attending Mount Olivet Primary School, Bailey studied at Shortwood Teachers’ College, graduating in 1917.

Soon thereafter, she was stricken with severe dysmenorrhoea.

While recuperating, she studied on her own to learn accounting, bookkeeping, and shorthand.

Still fuelled by a desire to make a difference, Bailey taught young girls that there was more to life than what they were told growing up.

Sometime later, with £100, she made a down payment for the property at 4 Rosedale Avenue in Kingston to start the Housecraft Training Centre.

The centre opened in January 1946 with a mission to train girls to bring out the best in themselves, to teach them respect for self and the job.

In essence, her mission was to help create women who were self-reliant, a rarity in early Jamaican history.

And that, she certainly accomplished.

At the centre she mothered 6,000 girls along with her adopted daughter.

Amy was also co-founder and first chairman of the Women’s Liberal Club which fought to give women the same rights as men.

Concerned with the discrimination she saw in the class hierarchy enshrined in Jamaica at the time, Bailey wrote a series of editorials that were published in The Gleaner.

She openly addressed the racial discrimination that relegated black-skinned Jamaicans to menial jobs and poverty, brown-skinned Jamaicans to middle-class blue-collar jobs and white Jamaicans to positions of authority. 

Amy, along with Dr Hyacinth Lightbourne and others, in 1938 organised the first birth control league.

Among multiple achievements as a teacher and political activist, Bailey was one of the first black women in Jamaica to become a Justice of the Peace.

She received many honours and awards in her career, including the Order of the British Empire in 1960 for voluntary social service, the Jamaican Order of Distinction in 1971 and the Marcus Garvey Award for Excellence in 1988.

On International Women’s Day - March 8, 1990, she was honoured with the Order of Jamaica for her contribution to women’s rights. She would die later that year, on October 3.

Amy Bailey’s life, work and legacy are testament to what can be accomplished through sheer determination.