An advocate for the underprivileged
Our Readers' Opinions
September 28, 2007

An advocate for the underprivileged

by Trevor Samuel 28.SEP.07

Elma Francois 1897 – 1944

Elma Francois was born on the 14th October, 1897, in St. Vincent. At a very early age, she assisted her mother in harvesting cotton, which was one of the main crops grown in St. Vincent in those days. As a teenager, she became aware of the injustices which women and other categories of workers experienced in St. Vincent. She decided to do something about it.{{more}}

Female employees in particular were paid very low wages on both the cotton and sugar plantations. Her efforts to mobilize the female workers to fight for higher wages led to her prompt dismissal from a sugar factory where she worked. Workers then had no protection.

Elma migrated to Trinidad in 1919 in search of better wages and working conditions. The first job she landed was as a domestic servant and washerwoman. She always kept herself informed of social and political issues affecting women in the Caribbean.

She was particularly impressed with Captain A.A. Cipriani and his efforts to improve the wages and working conditions of workers.

She, therefore, became a member of Cipriani’s Trinidad Workingmen’s Association.

Elma’s radical style of addressing social issues led her to break ranks with Cipriani, whom she considered too docile and ineffective. A similar decision was taken by Uriah Buzz Butler who accused Cipriani of fighting the authorities with kids’ gloves.

She educated herself on African Culture and heritage, and was very proud of her history. This education she tried to pass on to her African colleagues by addressing them in public meetings at Woodford Square in Port of Spain and other areas in Trinidad. She made the popular Woodsquare into a regular meeting point for hot debates before the days of Doctor Eric Williams.

Elma was a founding member of the Negro Welfare Cultural and Social Association (NWSCA), whose members were involved in the hunger marches of the 1930’s. Her bold courageous and radical style of addressing social issues affecting workers landed her in trouble. She was arrested and charged for sedition. Without any legal background, she successfully defended herself, and all charges against her were dismissed.

Elma was honoured by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and will be remembered as a national heroine who dedicated her life to the struggle for social justice and equality. She died in 1944.

Trevor Samuel currently serves as Education Officer with responsibility for the Social Services in the Ministry of Education here in SVG.

If further information is needed on the life and work of Elma Francois or any other Vincentian of historical significance, please call him at 784 456-8696 or 784 454-6261