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    November 16

  • 07:15 PM

Black History Month: Dame Elsie Payne

SHERRYLYN CLARKE, sherrylynclarke@nationnews.com

Added 12 February 2014

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Researched by Sandra Sealey ​Dame Patricia Symmonds describes her as a “phenomenon and an inspiration, symbolising the best of Barbados”. ​To Dame Billie Miller, she is “the lady every student wanted to emulate”; and the Queen’s College fraternity reckons her as one of its most illustrious daughters. Dame Elsie Payne, in her tenure as headmistress of Queen’s College, raised the standards, managed change superbly and touched the lives of many with whom she came into contact. Dame Elsie was born Elsie Pilgrim on May 14, 1927, and her long association with Queen’s College began in 1936 when she entered at the age of nine. In 1946 she won the Barbados Scholarship, the first female in the history of the island to do so. Degree in history ​​She proceeded to Exeter College, then a college of London University, where she pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree in history. Upon graduation in 1949, she entered Cambridge University and duly completed her PhD in history. Dame Elsie’s commitment to country and community may have been moulded in her upbringing. She is descended from a family of educators who include Charles “Charlie” Pilgrim, former headmaster of Combermere School and her sister Daphne St John, first black headmistress of St Winifred’s School, among others. Her family also made a contribution in the area of business with her late father operating S.O. Pilgrim’s Shoeshop, now Shoes First at the corner of Trafalgar Street and Marhill Street in The City. Unlike so many West Indians who preferred to work in Britain, Dame Elsie returned to Barbados and was appointed to the staff at Queen’s College. After serving four years as deputy headmistress from 1966, she was appointed headmistress in 1970, becoming in the process, the first Barbadian to lead Queen’s College. Even before she became headmistress, she was widely regarded by her colleagues and students as an excellent teacher and, in an age when West Indian history was not formally entrenched on the curriculum, she introduced her students to living conditions of West Indian slaves. Under her stewardship, Queen’s College produced several winners of scholarship and exhibitions, and those who did not reach this high level of attainment received a rounded education that enabled them to proceed to university or into various professions in the public and private realm. In fact, sensing the need to provide impetus for the already expanding tourist sector, she widened the curriculum to include German. During her tenure of office, she set ablaze the fires of co-education within the walls of the school when in 1981, 38 first form boys were enrolled as students. With her training in history, she was always mindful of the traditions of the school and initiated the Founder’s Day Service as a way of reflecting on the achievements of the past. It is now an annual event at Queen’s College. ​​Values ​​Yet, in spite of the academic success of the school, Dame Elsie did not forget the importance of values education in the moulding of young minds. In this regard, she inaugurated the charity drive at the school, encouraging students to give to needy persons within the community. In addition, she was instrumental in the formation of the Queen’s College Parent-Teacher Association in 1971. This erudite scholar, loving and caring educator, retired in 1985 after 15 years at the helm of one of the island’s leading secondary institutions. She sat on several national educational boards and her contribution was acknowledged when, in July 1980, she was made a Dame of St Andrew. The Elsie Payne Roundabout near the Bridgetown Port as well as the Elsie Payne Complex, headquarters of the Ministry of Education, located on the site formerly occupied by her alma mater, bear tribute to her life and work. ​​​ ​Source: Shaping A Nation: Principals Of Barbadian Schools 1900-1980 – by Historian Dr Henderson Carter.  

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