DAME NELLIE ROBINSON:
If education has been one of the main tools by which Antiguans and
Barbudans have uplifted themselves, achieving social and economic mobility in a harshly
society and preparing themselves for the challenges of political
Georgiana Ellen Robinson's outstanding role in making quality education
the masses certainly elevates her to the rank of Heroine of the Nation.
Georgiana Ellen Robinson, affectionately known as "Nellie", was
born on 71'1 December, 1880, into George and Margaret Robinson's family of eight,
and spent her early childhood living
on Newgate Street in St John's. In
a move that would turn out to be very
significant for her, Nellie was sent to the United States as a young
child, where she remained for most of her childhood, receiving an
education in the American school system. There she sought employment
from the early age of 13 years as a child nurse, governess and
In October 1894, Nellie, then aged 14 years, returned to Antigua, and
continued her education at the Coke College on East Street, St John's. When the Coke
College closed in 1897, Nellie continued her studies in mathematics, music and French.
April 1898, Nellie, then aged only 18 years, began the enterprise
that would develop into the prestigious TOR Memorial High School, an institution
that would have far reaching effects on the social and cultural development of the
country for the next century and beyond.
Ms Nellie Robinson began her career as an educator by teaching her
siblings and the children of some family friends. Those early efforts were the beginning
of the TOR Memorial High School, named after her brother, Thomas Oliver Robinson, who had
died in his youth. This was the beginning of an unforgettable and very precious
teaching career that would span the next 57 years, ending only in 1955,
when "Ms Rob", at age 75, would retire as Principal of the school
because of failing health.
In analyzing the heroic nature of her work in education and culture, we
may ask, what were the influences on the life of young Nellie that caused her to
develop such a strong social conscience, and such a burning desire to help better
the lot of her fellow Antiguans and Barbudans? Certainly, her strong Christian
faith and the effects on her sensibility of living in America in the late 1800's would have contributed to her
becoming the champion of education
and culture as the disciplines to uplift and ennoble Antiguan society.
Nellie would have seen and experienced racism personally in the USA. She
would have observed the
discrimination and exclusion that were the lot of her fellow black
people in that country. And she would have resolved to help her people
prepare themselves so that we
could claim the equality and the freedom that were our due.
Inevitably, given the rigidity of colonial society,
Miss Nellie Robinson had
her conflicts with the administration of the day. Always, however, the
moral Tightness of her position and
the quiet forcefulness of her character carried the day.
For example, she lobbied against the official practice of that period
whereby so-called illegitimate children should not be admitted to secondary school.
it was her school that provided the first opportunities for such children to have
equal access to secondary education. Her example would soon be followed by the other
until equality of access to education for all children became the Norm.
the daily curriculum at her school went beyond the usual subjects to inculcate
in her students the values of obedience, honesty, decency, cleanliness,
and other similar
virtues. As the
only co-educational secondary school at the time, it pioneered and demonstrated
the possibilities for this kind of educational institution.
Miss Nellie Robinson shamed the official system by providing a
scholarship for every fourth child in a family to attend her school. This
practice continues today. In such ways she showed up the inadequacies of
the colonial system and pointed the way for change.
The system attempted to retaliate by persecuting Miss Rob.
qualifications to be a secondary
school teacher and those of her staff were questioned and her school's premises
were inspected for alleged unsanitary conditions.
continued her struggle to have her school's secondary status officially recognized and
to normalize relations between
her important institution and the official education authorities.
The measure of her victory and the importance of her legacy are to be
found in the very great number of Antiguans and Barbudans who benefited
by attending her institution or were in other ways touched by her profound and ever so
In addition to her towering stature in the field of education, the
Antiguan society also felt the presence of Miss Nellie Robinson in other important
As her authority in the society became established, she was sought out by
officialdom for various responsibilities.
Thus during World War I she was the only black woman on the Mobilization
Committee, rallying the local men to join the war effort. In this
capacity she successfully lobbied for better living conditions for the recruits on the
long sea voyage to Britain.
As a member of the Water Preservation Committee from 1912, she played an
important role in the early efforts to expand of pipe-borne water in the country.
She also led the first Arts and Cultural Committee in Antigua, in
another pioneering effort, this time to establish that there was an indigenous basis
for the proliferation of modern arts and
culture In a new Antigua. She herself participated in and directed a
number of dramatic productions and musicals. She supported the development of Carnival in
the 50's and encouraged her students to participate. She was also one of the pioneers
of the Guides movement for girls and was an active committee member of the Guide
property on High Street that housed her school for many years was purchased
with funds raised through many creative initiatives, including school
raffles, breakfast dances,
and the like.
Her devotion to her school was surpassed only by her devotion to her
church. A devout Anglican from childhood, she was a Sunday School teacher, and member of
certain committees and
bodies within the church.
For relaxation, Ms Rob read widely in classical
literature, practiced needlework or pursued gardening.
This outstanding lady was honoured twice by the British Monarchy: In
1935, King George V honoured her with a medal in commemoration of Their Majesties'
and in 1941 she was awarded the MBE (Member of the British Empire). In recognition
of her outstanding contribution to education and culture in Antigua and Barbuda,
the Professional Organization of Women in Antigua (POWA), in their
2000, named Ms Nellie Robinson "Woman of the 20th
Miss Nellie Robinson died on 29th April, 1972, at the grand
old age of 92 years.
our 25th Anniversary of Independence, November 1st. 2006, Miss Nellie
Robinson was posthumously awarded - Dame Companion of The Most Exalted
Order of National Hero (DNH), for services to education and hensforthe
will be referred to as Dame Nellie Robinson.