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BUT’s proud and humble beginnings

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The late Rosalind Robinson, a respected, retired school principal and the wife of the late Kenneth Robinson, PhD, likened the formation of the Bermuda Union of Teachers in February 1919 to “a phoenix rising from the ashes”.

The late Adele Tucker, one of the union’s founding members, described its formation as “a blaze kindled when three teachers died in what appeared to be quick succession”.

Victor Scott is joined by a bevy of ladies at the BUT meeting in Somerset in 1932. They are, in no particular order, Misses Peets and Fox, Mrs Johnston, Misses Lightbourne and Brown, and “Beryl” and “Eulah”, whose surnames are unknown (Photograph courtesy of the Charles C. Snaith collection)

It was immediately after the burial of the third teacher, Rosa Butterfield, a much loved educator at St Alban’s School on St John’s Road, Pembroke, that the BUT was formed. The four founding teachers were Mattie Crawford, head teacher of Till’s Hill School, the Reverend Rufus J. Stovell, an AME minister and headmaster of the North Village School, Edith Crawford, head of Alaska Hall School, and Adele Tucker, of the Paget School.

Louis Gilbert, left, and Mary Packwood at a BUT meeting in Somerset in 1932 (Photograph courtesy of the Charles C. Snaith collection)

In the St John’s churchyard, the decision was made to form a union and four committees were created. Each member was given a designated district and responsibility to announce a mass meeting. The response was encouraging and officers were elected from among those in attendance.

Charles Snaith, BUT president in 1932 (Photograph courtesy of the Charles C. Snaith collection)
Miss Hinson (Photograph courtesy of the Charles C. Snaith collection)

The Reverend R. H. Tobitt was chosen as the president. He was an AME minister who had arrived from Antigua in the 1900s with his wife and four children. He was the headmaster of the East End School, now the home of the St George’s Community Centre. He lived in a house named “Littleton” on Turkey Hill, in St George’s.

Mr Stovell was elected vice-president, Edith Crawford the secretary and Adele Tucker the treasurer.

Teachers had many grievances against an education department that did not seem to have the interest of aided schools at heart.

This small group of teachers struggled to keep their union alive through various methods of fund raising. Inter-school contests were borne out of the need to generate funds from the public. The meetings were poorly attended and often it was impossible to form a quorum. In 1959, Adele Tucker, in a speech delivered to the union, said: “We have been encouraged by historical data that emphasises the fact that unions the world over have been beset with difficulties during their formative years. The important fact is that despite these difficulties the organisation remained intact.”

My interest in this union was piqued by the discovery of a handwritten speech delivered by my father, Charles C. Snaith, in St. George’s on February 5, 1932. He was familiar with teachers unions, as he had been a member of the Jamaica Teachers Union established in 1894.

I sincerely hope teachers of today will find some interest in the dreams of teachers some 90 years ago when those dedicated teachers saw the need to band together.

The speech reads as follows:

President, fellow teachers, ladies and gentlemen,

I am fully conscious of the great honour you have conferred on me by electing me the president of your union for 1932. This union has been dear to the hearts of many of our best teachers who by their generous thought and self-sacrificing principle have made this union a living thing.

What head teachers at non-vested schools were earning in 1939 (Photograph courtesy of the Charles C. Snaith collection)

I need not recall the names of our notable teachers who have steered the union over seas, calm or stormy, to safe anchorage.

Assistant and substitute teachers’ salaries in 1939 (Photograph courtesy of the Charles C. Snaith collection)

I sincerely trust you may have no cause to find that the union becomes less beneficial and less uplifting during my tenure of office.

In taking this responsible post, I wish to say firstly to teachers that we wield a lofty power. The standard of good living, the intellectual, moral and social fabric of a community are in a great measure influenced by teachers and a union such as ours, with teachers whose hands and hearts are bound by that one supreme word — service. It can do marvellous things in this direction.

Secondly, I wish to remind all friends and lovers of education that the union needs their sympathetic co-operation. Every teacher has the keen desire to make our island better. We cannot surely agree with every iota a teacher does, but we are to assure this aim is for the island’s good.

There are so many potent things we need here. Firstly, an extension of the school age limit and secondly we need free education in our public schools. We are justly proud to know that our worthy Director of Education has sounded the note in his report for their improvements.

It is our duty as teachers to show that such improvements mean a powerful lot to the island. Think, yes, of the outlay the Government will have to face — money for buildings, money for equipment, money to pay more teachers, money to supply books — but when we come to practical facts, the amount of money for each school would not be so great. Then we need continuation schools for grown-up boys and girls, medical attendance of schoolchildren and kindergarten schools.

These, friends, are only a few of our needs. They cannot come all at once but by patient endurance and unstinting devotion to our work, and by strengthening the hands of the director, our union will enjoy these.

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons, the mother of Sandys South MP Jamahl Simmons, is the 2020 winner in the Adult section of the Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest

Our union wishes to bring together every teacher in public schools here. Much benefit can accrue from our coming together. We need to strengthen each other, to give vent to your schoolroom difficulties, to interchange views on methods of teaching, to get the best method of dealing with our work.

I am resting upon the loyal co-operation of my executive and the united support of every member of the union to maintain the union’s high ideals and make the year 1932 one to be remembered.

The BUT, during Mr Snaith’s tenure was able to:

1, Establish a three-year scholarship for a student to attend the Berkeley Institute

2, Develop inter-school sports

3, Hold a divine service on the Sunday before the annual meeting

4, Hold teachers’ annual picnics

At the end of his tenure, Mr Snaith received a letter asking him to remain on as president to pilot the union through a fourth year.

The letter was signed by Rosalie Pearman, Victor F. Scott and Louisa E. Gardiner.

Adele Tucker, founding member of the union, said at the conclusion of the 1959 Teachers Union Convention: “Go on in the name of the Lord. I bid you go on, and may God prosper your labours day by day.”

My sincere thanks to the now deceased Rosalind Robinson and my aunt, Thelma Packwood, who were interviewed in May 2000.

Cecille C. Snaith-Simmons, the mother of Sandys South MP Jamahl Simmons, is the 2020 winner in the Adult section of the Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest

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Published February 10, 2022 at 8:00 am (Updated February 09, 2022 at 5:37 pm)

BUT’s proud and humble beginnings

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