Three Caribbean women you should know for Women’s History Month

This March, we celebrate Women’s History Month by learning about three Caribbean women who are crucial change agents and have transformed the world.

Catherine Flon

Catherine Flon – Haiti (1772 – 1831)

The Haitian Revolution is one of the most significant Black uprisings in history. After twelve years of insurrection, the self-emancipated revolutionaries of what was then Saint-Domingue successfully founded the world’s first Black republic and officially declared their independence from France in 1804. Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines are perhaps the most renowned leaders of the Haitian Revolution; however, the rebellion was not without crucial women who supported the movement.

Said to be Dessalines’ goddaughter, Catherine Flon was one such female supporter who has been relatively obscured in history. A seamstress who also served as her godfather’s assistant, Flon was a nurse to her fellow patriots and tended them back to health during the Revolution. On May 18, 1803, Dessalines led the Haitian army in the fight for independence and ripped the white stripe out of France’s tricolor flag as a symbol of Haiti’s freedom from colonialism. He trampled on the white stripe in the streets of Arcahaie, leaving Flon to later sew together the remaining red and blue stripes to create Haiti’s first flag, representing the Black and mixed-race Haitians joining forces under the motto “Liberté ou la Mort!” May 18th is commemorated annually as Haitian Flag Day and Flon is celebrated as one of three heroines of the Haitian Revolution, with her picture featured on the island’s ten gourdes banknote in 2000.

Claudia Jones

Claudia Jones – Trinidad (1915 – 1964)

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and Tobago, Claudia Jones was a political activist, organizer, journalist, and cultural leader who spearheaded movements for social change in both the United States and Britain. Not long after immigrating to New York with her family in 1924, Jones joined political and social justice organizations like the Junior NAACP and the National Urban League. She was later catapulted into leadership through her support of the falsely accused Scottsboro Boys on trial for rape in Alabama in 1931.

Jones later joined the Communist Party, beginning with the Young Communist League, and continued to grow as a popular advocate for workers’ rights, especially for women and people of color. Her growing recognition made her a target of US surveillance and she was arrested several times and eventually deported in December 1955. In Britain, Jones continued her organizing efforts for racial equity with a focus on the UK’s expanding West Indian population. She co-founded the West Indian Workers and Students Association, the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News, and Britain’s first Caribbean carnival, now known as the Notting Hill Carnival, all while giving speeches across the world on women’s rights and racial equality.

Claudia Jones died in 1964.

Shirley Chisholm

Shirley Chisholm – Guyana & Barbados (1924 – 2005)

Born in the United States to Guyanese and Bajan parents, Shirley Chisholm was a revered American politician who worked as an educator in New York during the early part of her career. She was drawn to politics through organizations for civil rights and women’s representation that she joined in Brooklyn in 1953. In 1960, Chisholm ran for then New York State Assemblyman Thomas R. Jones’ seat in 1964 after he declined reelection. Chisholm sat on New York State Legislatures until 1968, from which she made it her duty to support legislative protections for voting rights, unemployment benefits, women’s advocacy, and education for the working class.

In 1968, Chisholm ran and was eventually elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. With the slogan “Unbought and Unbossed,” she became the first Black woman elected to Congress and would go on to be a founding member of both the Congressional Black Caucus and the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. The following year, Chisholm also became the first woman to run for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and the first African American to run for a president under a major party for the 1972 presidential election. Though her campaign later failed, she went on to spend the next fifteen years in Congress and was later inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.