50 Great Jamaican Women and their Contributions

Jamaica has a rich history of powerful and inspiring women who have made significant contributions to the island and the world. Here are some of the phenomenal women:

  1. Nanny of the Maroons -known as Granny Nanny or Nanny of the Maroons ONH, was a prominent 18th-century figure who served as a leader for the Windward Maroons, a group of formerly enslaved Africans. Her leadership was instrumental in the Windward Maroons' resistance against British authorities during the First Maroon War, which lasted several years and was fought using guerrilla tactics.Recognizing her strategic military prowess and exceptional leadership skills, the government of Jamaica declared Nanny as the country's only female national hero in 1975. Her contributions to the Maroon resistance continue to be celebrated and recognized, and her image has been immortalized on the Jamaican $500 note, colloquially referred to as the "Nanny".
  2. Mary Seacole - (23 November 1805 – 14 May 1881) was a British-Jamaican nurse and entrepreneur who established the "British Hotel" during the Crimean War. She described it as "a mess-table and comfortable quarters for sick and convalescent officers", and provided aid to wounded service men on the battlefield, nursing many of them back to health. Seacole came from a family tradition of Jamaican and West African "doctresses" and utilized her knowledge of herbal remedies to display compassion, skill, and bravery while caring for soldiers during the war. In recognition of her contributions, Seacole was posthumously awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit in 1991. She was also named the greatest black Briton in a survey conducted by the black heritage website Every Generation in 2004. Furthermore, there is evidence suggesting that Seacole was the first British nurse practitioner, as she had advanced medical skills and actively practiced nursing during the Crimean War.
  3. Louise Bennett-Coverley - Miss Lou OM, OJ, MBE (7 September 1919 – 26 July 2006), was a Jamaican writer, poet, folklorist, and educator who wrote and performed her works in Jamaican Patois or Creole. She aimed to preserve and promote the presentation of poetry, folk songs, and stories in patois, also known as "nation language," thereby establishing the literary validity of local languages. Bennett's contributions to Jamaican literature and theatre were widely recognized through numerous honours and awards. In honour of her achievements, a venue named Miss Lou's Room was established at Harbourfront Centre, a non-profit cultural organization in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Moreover, the University of Toronto offers the Louise Bennett Exchange Fellowship in Caribbean Literary Studies, specifically designed for students from the University of West Indies.
  4. Una Marson - (6 February 1905 – 6 May 1965) Una Maud Victoria Marson, a Jamaican writer, activist, and feminist, was a prolific creator of poems, plays, and radio programs. In 1932, she travelled to London where she made history by becoming the first black woman to be employed by the BBC during World War II. Marson's contributions continued to grow, and in 1942, she became the producer of the program "Calling the West Indies," which she transformed into "Caribbean Voices." This program served as a significant platform for Caribbean literary work.Delia Jarrett-Macauley, Marson's biographer, described her (in "The Life of Una Marson, 1905–1965") as the first "Black British feminist to speak out against racism and sexism in Britain."
  5. Portia Simpson-Miller - Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller ON, born on December 12, 1945, is a prominent Jamaican politician and Jamaica's First Female Prime Minister. She held the position of Prime Minister of Jamaica twice, first from March 2006 to September 2007, and then from January 5, 2012, to March 3, 2016. Additionally, she led the People's National Party for twelve years, from 2005 to 2017, and served as the Leader of the Opposition on two occasions: from 2007 to 2012, and from 2016 to 2017.
  6. Dr. Una Clarke - Born in the parish of St. Elizabeth, Jamaica, West Indies, Dr. Clarke migrated to the United States as a foreign student in 1958. First Caribbean-born woman elected to the New York City Council, advocate for Caribbean-Americans and minority rights. During her ten-year tenure, she sponsored over 300 pieces of legislation on a range of issues including child welfare, education, health, and mental health. She directed millions of dollars towards education, health, and economic development in her district, and chaired the Council's committee on Mental Health, Mental Retardation, Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services. Clarke's hard work and tireless advocacy brought remarkable changes to her community.
  7. Merlene Ottey - Merlene Joyce Ottey OJ CD is a retired Jamaican-Slovenian sprinter who represented Jamaica for 24 years before switching to Slovenia from 2002 to 2012. She is the world indoor record holder for 200 metres and has won 9 Olympic medals, including 3 silvers and 6 bronzes. Ottey has also won 14 World Championship medals and is considered the "Queen of the Track" due to her longevity and career achievements.
  8. Dorothy Pine-McLarty - Jamaica's first female senator and Minister of State in the Ministry of Education.
  9. Olive Senior - born 23 December 1941, is a Jamaican writer based in Toronto, Canada, is an accomplished poet, novelist, short story, and non-fiction writer. In 2005, she was awarded the Musgrave Gold Medal by the Institute of Jamaica for her contributions to literature. Senior's works include four collections of poems, three collections of short stories, a novel, and several non-fiction books. Her short story collection, Summer Lightning, won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and her most recent collection of stories, The Pain Tree, won the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature in the fiction category. Senior's non-fiction book, Dying To Better Themselves: West Indians and the Building of the Panama Canal, won the non-fiction category of the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.
  10. Marcia Griffiths - 23 November 1949, also known as the Empress of Reggae music and the Female Vocalist Supreme, is considered the hardest working artist in the Jamaican Music Industry. With a career spanning over 40 years, she has achieved international success as a soloist and as a duo with Bob Andy in Bob and Marcia. She has also toured the world as a member of the I-threes with Bob Marley and the Wailers. Notably, her hit song "Electric Boogie" reached the Billboard chart and led to the creation of the popular dance, the Electric Slide. Throughout her career, Griffiths has maintained a consistent recording and performing schedule.
  11. Beverley Anderson-Manley - (born 8 November 1941)Wife of former Prime Minister Michael Manley and advocate for women's rights, youth development, and social welfare.As a prominent public figure in Jamaica, this individual emerged in the 1970s as a champion of women's rights and spearheaded a campaign for maternity leave. She was married to Michael Manley, the Prime Minister of Jamaica from 1972 to 1980, from 1972 to 1993. Known for her progressive views and her ability to connect with Jamaica's black population, she was widely respected and admired. In 1992, she co-founded a radio show with Eric Anthony Abrahams. Following her divorce from Michael, she published The Manley Memoirs in 2008 and later married Donald Keith Duncan in 2012.
  12. Grace Jones - Grace Beverly Jones OJ (born 19 May 1948) is a multi-talented individual known for her success as a model, singer, and actress. Originally from Jamaica, she relocated to Syracuse, New York with her family during her teenage years. Jones began her modelling career in New York before moving on to Paris, where she worked for renowned fashion houses like Yves St. Laurent and Kenzo. Her work on the covers of popular magazines such as Elle and Vogue earned her recognition and popularity. Jones worked with prominent photographers, including Jean-Paul Goude, Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, and Hans Feurer. Her androgynous appearance and striking features made her an icon in the fashion industry.
  13. Edna Manley - (28 February 1900 – 2 February 1987)OM, was a renowned artist and arts educator from Jamaica. Her extensive body of work, which encompasses significant drawings, paintings, and sculptures, has earned her a reputation as one of Jamaica's most significant artists. Edna Manley's work can be found in Jamaica's National Gallery, as well as other public institutions such as the Kingston Parish Church, the Bustamante Children's Hospital, and the University of the West Indies. Edna Manley was instrumental in the development of art education in Jamaica. In the 1940s, she organised and taught art classes at the Junior Centre of the Institute of Jamaica. These classes evolved into a more structured program with the establishment of the Jamaica School of Art and Craft in 1950, the country's first art school. This school eventually expanded into a college and was renamed the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts in 1995 to honour the pioneering role that the artist played in the development of Jamaican art.
  14. Marva Bernard - First female president of the Jamaica Netball Association and advocate for women's sports.
  15. Gladys Bustamante - Wife of National Hero Sir Alexander Bustamante and advocate for workers' rights and social justice.
  16. Tessanne Chin - Singer and winner of Season 5 of The Voice.
  17. Audrey Reid - Actress and director known for her roles in Jamaican theater and film.
  18. Makeda Jahnesta Marley - Daughter of Bob Marley and advocate for environmental and social justice.
  19. Una Clarke - Jamaican-American politician and advocate for Caribbean-American and minority rights.
  20. Barbara Gloudon - Writer, broadcaster, and advocate for Jamaican culture.
  21. Dr. Rebecca Tortello - Jamaica's first female ophthalmologist and advocate for blindness prevention.
  22. Sylvia Wynter - Writer and philosopher who explored Caribbean identity and culture.
  23. Janet Morrison - Advocate for women's rights and gender equality and former Executive Director of Women's Resource and Outreach Centre.
  24. Monica DaCosta - Founder of Women's Media Watch and advocate for media reform and gender equality.
  25. Deika Morrison - Journalist and advocate for environmental and social justice.
  26. Zadie Smith - Writer and novelist known for exploring themes of identity and cultural belonging.
  27. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce - Jamaican track and field athlete with multiple Olympic and World Championship medals.
  28. Pauletta Francis - Advocate for women's rights and gender equality and former Executive Director of Women's Inc.
  29. Sharon Gordon - Founder of Sisters in Harmony and advocate for women's rights and gender equality.
  30. Beverly Anderson-Manley - Advocate for women's rights and social welfare.
  31. Anita Belnavis - Wife of Bob Marley and advocate for environmental and social justice.
  32. Millie Small - Singer known for popularizing ska music in the 1960s.
  33. Rachel Manley - Writer and author of Drumblair trilogy, which explores the history of her family and Jamaica.
  34. Lorna Goodison - Poet and former Poet Laureate of Jamaica. She is a Jamaican poet, essayist and memoirist, a leading West Indian Writer of the generation born after World War ll. She was appointed Poet Laureate of Jamaica in 2017, succeeding Meryvn Morris.  In 2019, she was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry.
  35. Dahlia Harris - As an actress, director, and producer, Harris has made significant contributions to Jamaican theater and film. She has won numerous awards and has been instrumental in bringing attention to Jamaican stories and artists
  36. Deon Hemmings - Hemmings is an Olympic gold medalist and world record holder in the 400m hurdles. She has been a trailblazer for Jamaican women in track and field and has inspired future generations of athletes.
  37. Amy Jacques Garvey -was a Jamaican-born journalist and activist. She was the second wife of Marcus Garvey. She was one of the pioneering female Black journalists and publishers of the 20th century
  38. Elaine Thompson - is a Jamaican sprinter who competes in the 60 metres, 100 metres and 200 metres. Regarded as one of the greatest sprinters of all time, she is a five-time Olympic champion, the fastest woman alive over the 100 m, and the third-fastest ever over 200 m.
  39. Shericka Jackson - She is a Jamaican sprinter competing in the 100 m, 200 m, and 400 metres. She is the fastest woman alive and second fastest woman of all time in the 200 metres since 202.
  40. Rita Marley - As a singer, musician, and activist, Marley has made significant contributions to Jamaican music and culture. Along with Marcia Griffiths and Judy Mowatt, she was a member of the reggae vocal group the I Threes, the backing vocalists for Bob Marley and the Wailers. She has continued to promote her late husband Bob Marley's music and legacy, and has also been a champion of social justice and environmental causes.
  41. Fae Ellington - Ellington is a respected broadcaster and advocate for Jamaican culture. She has worked in radio and television for over 30 years, and has helped to promote Jamaican music, art, and literature. Best known for hosting the television series Morning Time on JBC for more than twelve years.She is also an advocate for women's rights and gender equality.
  42. Cedella Marley Minto - is a Jamaican singer. She is the daughter of reggae singers Bob Marley and Rita Marley and the mother of Skip Marley. She was in the group Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers along with her sister and brothers. With the group, she has won three Grammy awards. She is also an accomplished author of several books.
  43. Latonya Styles - She is World Renowned Dance Master Instructor and Creator of Stylish Moves Jamaican Dance. She is a passionate dancehall ambassador who teaches dance all over the world, promotes Jamaican culture and provides certification in Dancehall styles.
  44. Carlene Davis - is a Jamaican gospel and reggae singer active since the 1970s. Successful since the early 1980s as a reggae artist, she survived cancer in the mid-1990s, after which she dedicated her career to gospel music. She has released over ten albums.
  45. Lisa Rene Shanti Hanna is a Jamaican politician and beauty queen who was crowned Miss World 1993, becoming the third Jamaican to win the title.
  46. Carol Joan Crawford - Carole Joan Crawford is a Jamaican model and beauty queen who won the Miss World contest in 1963, She was also the first winning delegate from both Jamaica and the Caribbean to have won Miss World
  47. Cynthia Jean Cameron Breakspeare is a Canadian-Jamaican jazz singer, musician and beauty queen. Breakspeare was crowned Miss World 1976. Breakspeare is the mother of reggae musician Damian Marley, through her relationship with Bob Marley, who remained married to Rita Marley until his death.
  48. Toni-Ann Singh is a Jamaican beauty queen who won Miss World 2019. She was previously crowned Miss Jamaica World 2019 and is the fourth woman from Jamaica to win Miss World. She is also the longest-reigning Miss World in the history of the pageant.
  49. Cicely Williams of Westmoreland, Jamaica was a pioneer in the field of medicine and medical research. She was Jamaica's first female doctor, and an international leader in mother and child care during the early 20th century. Cicely was born in 1893 into a well-to-do family from Kew Park in Westmoreland.
  50. Aloun Ndombet-Assamba, is a Jamaican lawyer, politician and diplomat. She was formerly Member of Parliament for Saint Ann South Eastern and served as Jamaica's Minister of Tourism, Entertainment, and Culture. She has served as High Commissioner for Jamaica in London between 2012 and 2016.

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