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Her story as history maker

Natanga Smith Hurdle

Her story as history maker

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One morning in 1976, many students gathered, as usual, at the gates of the prestigious Harrison College, Crumpton Street.
But that day was not to be a normal day. Among those students were the first female pupils to pass through the doors of the institution founded in 1733, taking in poor white boys during its first century in existence and following Emancipation, gifted, poor black boys too.
In 1961 the school underwent further change when it admitted eleven-year-old boys based on academic merit and without charging them fees. And so, in September 1976, Tessa Chaderton made history as one of the first girls to enter this bastion of male academia.
At age 16, dressed in a white blouse, grey skirt and maroon-and-gold tie, she would recall, on the day, being overwhelmed by the fact that she was breaking traditional barriers and “that there would be high expectations of me”.
She had left Girls’ Foundation School in Christ Church to pursue A Level subjects at the school affectionately called “Kolij”.
Today, Tessa Chaderton-Shaw is the regional administrator for the Caribbean Regional Anti-Doping Organization and recounts how she seized the opportunity when it presented itself and was happy about it, coming from an all-girls school prior to that.
Who was headmaster at the time?
“Tank”, the inimitable Albert Williams.
What words of advice were you given by your parents?
Do your best and work hard. My father Charles and all my maternal and paternal uncles had attended Harrison College.
How did you cope, being one of the first girls? Did you have to prove yourself to the boys/teachers?
We were welcomed with open arms and everyone was exquisitely polite, then after six weeks, that changed when Earl Yearwood, a classmate, announced, “all o’ we is one”. The chivalry came to an abrupt halt!
We simply did what we had to do, but the boys loved the fact that girls were now among them and wherever we went, people would stare.
The school was not prepared for us in several ways but we quickly adapted and adjusted. We had to use the female staff bathroom. That was weird at the time.
Most memorable moment?
The class being sent to the headmaster’s office for a flogging; the girls were spared, thank God.
Most embarrassing moment at school?
Joining cadets and having to spread-eagle on the rifle range in a skirt.
Name a couple of your favourite teachers.
Mr Sutherland was special, but also Beverly Alleyne in her own dignified way . . . but there were others like Ralph Jemmott, Janice Millington, Grace Pilgrim, Monica Procope, Canon Ivor Jones . . . strict disciplinarians.
Any participation in sports or clubs?
I used to play tennis.
Last day at school – describe that feeling.
It was a very sad day . . . two great years had come to an end. We walked to the Pebbles Beach to celebrate the end of A Levels, end of Kolij.
What did you take away with you from your time at Harrison College?
The rigour of A Levels was excellent preparation for university – but also, being part of a great institution of renowned leaders was, and still is, inspiring.
After leaving HC, where did your educational and career pathway take you?
McGill University, Canada; University of Chicago, United States, and the University of the West Indies.
Did any members of your family attend the school at any time?
I am proud to say that my daughter Haylee is in upper sixth and loves Kolij . . . several cousins also attend the school. Many years later I realized that I was one of 12 girls who had made history at the school. This is documented in the book by Ralph A. Jemmott, A History Of Harrison College. Required reading for all HC students.