Barbados’ first female parliamentarian has been memorialized as a trailblazer, pioneer and trendsetter at the inaugural Ermie Bourne Lecture – in the presence of a successor who is now Prime Minister.
The lecture, held at the Alleyne School on Saturday night, in her hometown of Belleplaine, St Andrew, was attended by Mia Mottley – elected as the first woman prime minister 66 years after Dame Edna Ermyntrude “Ermie” Bourne entered the House of Assembly.
She was elected in the first election under universal adult suffrage on December 13 1951, after she won the St Andrew seat with 1372 votes for the Barbados Labour Party led by Sir Grantley Adams. She served for ten years.
Fellow BLP members, shared reminiscences of Dame Ermie three weeks after the 100th anniversary of her birthday. She died in 2000.
St Andrew MP and Minister of Housing, Lands and Rural Development George Payne described his predecessor as a symbol “of our acceptance and result for the qualities of women in the workplace”.
Friend and colleague Simon Belgrave remembered Dame Bourne’s legacy as an advocate for the infrastructural and social development of St Andrew.
Belgrave was one of the founding members of the Barbados Labour Party St Andrew constituency branch that was established by Dame Ermie. He recalled how she sought to create opportunities for the poor and vulnerable in rural Barbados and empowered females in community and public service in an era that was dominated by men.
“One lecture would not be enough to celebrate and continue the legacy of Ermie,” Belgrave said while encouraging the audience gathered in the Alleyne School auditorium to use Dame Bourne’s legacy as inspiration.
“Let us strive to use her life as an example of service in the community,” he added.
In delivering the lecture, Government Senator Dr Rommel Springer, parliamentary secretary in the ministry of education, revered Dame Ermie for her contributions to the national political landscape as the first woman elected under universal adult suffrage.
“Although public life was the domain of men, Ermie broke into this political role when she took on a political role in the 1940s; her involvement in national politics in the 1950s was nothing short of exceptional given the extent women’s marginalization in the political arena,” said Springer.
While serving two terms in Parliament, Dame Ermie improved the housing and living conditions of residents in rural St Andrew, he said.
He recounted a number of the politician’s achievements: she addressed the poor conditions and “rotten damp houses” that were occupied by her constituents; ensured that those who lived in impassable areas received access to water; built the Belleplaine Social Centre and; assisted with relief efforts after Hurricane Janet in 1955.
“Ermie Bourne was the first woman to really change the political landscape of Barbados in any meaningful way, breaking taboos, disrupting the status quo, and rewriting the narrative of Caribbean politics,” said Springer, while recognizing that Dame Bourne paved the way for black women in Barbadian politics.
“I challenge us therefore to continue to be inspired by the spirit of Dame Ermie Bourne and to overcome any obstacle placed in our way let us continue believing that we are more than we are expected to be and we can go further than we are expected to go . . . despite our circumstances,” he added.
The highway leading along the East Coast from Belleplaine now bears the parliamentarian’s name.