100 Anniversary of the birth of Dame Eugenia Charles

The late Eugenia Charles of Dominica with The late Ronald Regan Of the United States

Dame Mary Eugenia Charles was a Prime Minister, lawyer, politician, and journalist. She was born on May 15, 1919 at Pointe Michel village, southern Dominica. She was educated at the Convent High School, Roseau, and St. Joseph’s Convent, Grenada. She read law at University of Toronto and was called to the Bar at Inner Temple, London in 1949. She began private practice in Dominica that year.

She wrote anonymously for the Herald and later the Star newspapers. She was in the vanguard of those who founded the Dominica Freedom Party (DFP) in 1968 following demonstrations against the passing of Seditious and Undesirable Publications Act in July.

Failing to win the Roseau north seat in the general election of 1970, she entered the House of Assembly as Nominated Member that year. In the 1975 general elections she contested and won the Roseau Central seat and became Leader of Opposition.

She was a delegate at the constitutional Conference for independence at Marlborough House, London in 1977 and was an active spokesperson in the public meetings related to this. Many of the present sections of the Constitution, such as the Republic and Presidency, Single Chamber Parliament and Elections Commission are due to her interventions.

She became the first Caribbean woman Prime Minister when the DFP won the1980 general elections. Her first term was dedicated to reconstruction of housing, roads and other infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane David and in getting the business of government and foreign relations back into order.

This was made more difficult by destabilization and the attempted coups of 1981 and the court cases that followed.

Her government was re-elected in 1985 with a reduced majority and again in 1990 when the United Workers Party (UWP), formed in 1988, became the main opposition in parliament. In 1991 she was knighted as Dame of the Order of Bath by Queen Elizabeth II at Harare, Zimbabwe, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference.

She retired from the House of Assembly and as Prime Minister in 1995. Dame Eugenia was best known outside of Dominica for her anti-communism during the last years of the Cold War in the Caribbean and, as Chairman of the OECS, for leading the invitation to the United States government under President Ronald Reagan to invade Grenada in October 1983 to restore democratic parliamentary government after the assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop. In her last years she suffered from dementia and was flown to Martinique for medical treatment after a fall, where she died in hospital on 6th September, 2005 at 86 years of age.

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