Remembering Louise Bennett-Coverley on International Women’s Day


By Philestena McLeod

2022 The International Women’s Day theme is focused on “imagine a gender equal world.” 

Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett-Coverley

In recognition of this year’s International Women’s Day, I focus on the one and only, the late Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverley, Jamaican born and bred. I will do my best to explain how Mrs. Bennett-Coverley or Miss Lou, as we knew her, used her multi-talented capabilities to promote gender equality, mitigate cultural stereotypes, and amplify the meaning of community belonging.

Mrs. Bennett-Coverley was a prominent woman in the Gordon Town community, where she and her husband made impressive contributions in multiple ways.

I was a student at Gordon Town primary school when I met Miss Lou and Mr. Coverley, who endorsed the school’s creative arts and sports program. Our sport group comprised three teams, Hope, Faith, and Charity. Faith was sponsored and headed by Miss Lou, and most of the performers and athletes were students who excelled in various areas of the arts.

Apart from her smile, Miss Lou was very engaging, a tool she used to inspire and to motivate her team. Another of her unique talents was her tutoring abilities, which she applied when she addressed issues relevant to cultural stereotypes and myths of gender labeling. She had a passion for education; she knew that the opportunity to learn was a gift that should never be taken for granted. Thus, she was able to use these multiple tools as positive reinforcement to help girls and boys overcome barriers such as gender inequalities.

We knew that Miss Lou loved to bring her audience into her space. She utilized these times to speak on the importance of self-confidence, accountability, self-compassion, and how necessary it was to follow our dreams. She espoused the use of Jamaican “twang and swag” as a recognition of our culture.

Community was essential to Miss Lou, and her audiences were her community. Applying her considerable talent to all who came within her range, Miss Lou promoted gender equality. Laughter and a profound connection to her heritage were the primary tools of her trade.  

Living in Canada was another chapter in Miss Lou’s life. She lived in Scarborough, a vastly multi-ethnic area of Toronto, where she continued to champion and hone in on her Jamaican identity.

She served as Cultural Ambassador at Large for Jamaica; and in 2001 she was appointed a member of the Order of Merit for her contribution to the development of arts and culture. In 2010 Miss Lou gifted her archive to McMaster University library, a canon in which I imagine immersing myself to gain an understanding of what it’s like to “live” culture the way she did.

Miss Lou’s contributions included her counterpart Ranny, her folklores, poems, her storytelling, songwriting, and performing Minto songs, while simultaneously opening doors for the upliftment of females. One of the many elements of Jamaican cultural pastime is storytelling, and no one told a better story than this Jamaica icon.  

Miss Lou thought us to be proud of our heritage, and that our language is our identity. She often spoke of the twang and the swag, which reminded me of Kenyan Writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o who said “If you know all the languages of the World and you don’t know your mother tongue or the language of your culture, that is enslavement. But if you know your mother tongue or the language of the culture and add all the other languages of the world to it, that is empowerment.”  Miss Lou did just that. She proudly wore her nation’s emblem. 

I am genuinely honoured to celebrate the life of a very special woman, The Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley.