Interviewee: Mavis Brady
Interviewer: Charlotte Kinch
Date: November 18-21, 1977
Mavis Brady, from St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands, was an educator and earned her Master’s Degree at the Teacher’s College of Columbia University. In 1977, she was the Director of Title IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the Virgin Islands. Interview includes discussion of: Brady’s personal view that she is not an outright feminist and her feelings of womanhood; her hopes for the convention; the state of education on the Virgin Islands; and identity in the Virgin Islands. Brady cared deeply for the mission of UNESCO, who provided her a fellowship at Columbia, and hoped to continue working for the betterment of the Virgin Islands and the international community.
Charlotte Kinch: We’re in the Samoan Caucus Room and I’m talking to Mavis Brady. Would you like to tell us where you’re from?
Mavis Brady: I’m from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, the United States Virgin Islands.
CK: And do you consider yourself to be a feminist?
MB: In the true sense of the word I really couldn’t say that I’m an outright feminist. I do have some feelings about womanhood, but certainly I wouldn’t consider myself to be an extremist in terms of women’s rights. I guess this comes from my life experience in the Virgin Islands. Women in general in the West Indies – of which we are a part – have not really had a similar struggle for women’s rights as the average American woman. I think this is a basic difference between us. We have a highly matriarchal society, and women do a pretty good job of holding their own. So that while I can empathize with some of my sisters who move to the extreme positions, I can’t say that I really feel the same way, have that strong feeling to agitate and to be constantly pushing, being overly aggressive. But I do support everything that this conference stands for in terms of seeing to it that women achieve the equal rights they deserve.
CK: Is this what your group hopes for from the convention? Do you have any particular interests that are particular to you in your hopes from this conference?
MB: I could imagine that most of us, as an outcome of this conference, would like to get a better understanding of the problems of other women. After all we live on an island community, to some extent isolated, and when I say to some extent I mean geographically. But in terms of the media we are quite close to the United States and the world, because everything that happens in this world we get it by radio and television instantly. We have come here to talk with others, communicate and to learn of their needs and problems; to do everything within our power to help the women’s movement not only in the United States but throughout the world.
CK: Would you talk to me a little bit about education in the Virgin Islands and particularly your education as a girl and a woman growing up?
MB: Well, I’m an educator by profession – it’s interesting that you would ask me to discuss that. I was educated in the Virgin Islands. I attended the public schools from childhood, graduating from high school in St. Thomas. And from there I went on to the United States where I studied for three-and-a-half years for a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. From there I returned home, which was always my dream because I felt that I had an obligation to return home and to serve my people.
After teaching for about three or four years I returned to the mainland and studied at Teacher’s College, Columbia University, where I earned a master’s degree in supervision and curriculum development. From there on I returned home, I got into administration, I worked as a supervisor for about five years, and shortly after that I went into working on federal programs. I’m presently titled Director of Title IV of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
We have a school enrollment of approximately 31,000 children; this extends for the public and non-public schools. The children in the school and the people in the Virgin Islands constitute a very well-integrated group of people. It’s a very cosmopolitan setting whereby we have people from all over the world – black, white, Asians, all kinds of people – and it’s really a good melting pot. Presently we have a large number of people from the Eastern Caribbean countries and several others from some of the British colonies. I know most people wouldn’t like for me to say colonies but – so that it’s quite an interesting setting.
We follow the American system of education. If you were to visit any school in the Virgin Islands you would see a similar curriculum, the organization for instruction would be similar to any that you would find in continental United States. We have our elementary schools, secondary schools, and we also have a College of the Virgin Islands where we go from pre-school through higher education. Presently we have our College of the Virgin Islands which offers programs on the bachelor’s, the baccalaureate, and the master’s, graduate level.
CK: How are women represented at the College and at the post-secondary and master’s level? Are women going into the professions?
MB: Definitely, but again, like the United States, most of our women go into the women-type jobs, you find them as teachers, nurses, librarians, and so forth.
CK: Are you doing anything in your women’s professional organizations to raise the consciousness of women and perhaps raise their aspirations?
MB: Definitely. We have some very active groups like the Business and Professional Women’s Club in the Virgin Islands; we have the League of Women Voters, which is a very active group. These are the two most outstanding groups in terms of pushing rights for the Virgin Islands woman. Both groups have gone on record supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. Our delegation came here fully committed to supporting ERA.
CK: Do you have women doctors, women lawyers?
MB: Definitely. Presently our assistant commissioner of health is a woman, and we’re very proud of her because this is a young woman that was a member of my Girl Scout troop. I had her as a senior about twenty years ago, and today she is one of the most outstanding doctors on the island and presently she is assistant commissioner of health. Her name is Dr. Cora Christian.
CK: Can you think of anything else that you would like to say that will go into this historical record? In terms of your home and yourself and your relationship with this conference, the people you have met here?
MB: I’d like to say that I consider this a very exciting opportunity. I rarely feel a sense of humility. Being a part of this great setting I was very moved when I listened last night for instance to Susan B. Anthony, the grand-daughter [sic] of the former leader in women’s rights (Note: Susan B. Anthony of the suffrage movement did not married or have children). It made me feel proud but at the same time very moved to be a part of this coming from a very small area like the Virgin Islands. We are very happy to be a part of this great historical event, for indeed as I thought of the historical background of the whole thing, we know that this is the second largest undertaking of this kind for the American woman.
Virgin Islanders do consider themselves Americans even though some people in the US may not see us in that light. Many people that we talk to in the lobby and we run into from the mainland they ask us, are you a citizen? Are you a subject? They don’t quite know what our status is. But we’d like to let Americans know that we feel very much a part of the United States of America. Not only do we feel much a part, but we are very proud of being a part of this great nation and to be called Americans.
I do hope that the money and time that was spent in getting this conference together would produce some very meaningful results. I feel that it really could not have come at a better time because bringing all of these women together from different areas certainly must make a difference. Whereas each one of us was in our little corner of the world or state or region of the United States, coming together like this gives you that opportunity that you could never have otherwise.
Another thing too is that listening to news releases about issues in the women’s movement doesn’t necessarily give you that understanding as you do when you sit here and have the material. Another helpful thing was the materials that we got from IWY for our state meetings. That really opened a lot of doors to creating a very good understanding of the issues, because some of us really had a casual understanding of these things. The number of terms coming out of this conference, which were literally unknown some twenty years ago, were not even used. Getting into this kind of an exercise, an opportunity to exchange these thoughts is almost an education in itself and we are very happy to be a part of it.
I am looking forward to the next conference in ’85. In fact I am very interested in international relations. As I sat and thought about the whole thing it’s almost a climax in my life, being a part of this International Women’s Year activity. I was a UNESCO fellow. I had a UNESCO fellowship to study when I attended Columbia University. My feeling about it was that as a result of having this assistance from the United Nations it made me feel committed to serving not only my community, my island the Virgin Islands, but also to do whatever I could throughout, for the rest of my life, in serving the world. Being here fulfills a part of that dream.
CK: And I look forward to seeing you in 1985.
MB: I hope I’ll be there in 1985, God sparing my life.
CK: Thank you very much.
End of Interview