The first members of the Bermuda Union of Teachers in February 1919. Back row, from left: E. Scott Tucker, Miss Matilda “Mattie” Crawford, Mrs. Hetty Tucker Morrell, Mrs. Mildred Outerbridge Paynter, Miss Lauretta Smith, Miss Ida Hinson and Mr. Ossie Francis. Front row, from left: Miss Edith Crawford, secretary; Rev. R.H. Tobitt, president; and Miss Adele Tucker, treasurer.
Photo: Collection of Dr. Kenneth E. Robinson. Courtesy of Mrs. Rosalind Robinson
Bermuda’s public education system was founded by trailblazing, dedicated and courageous individuals who often battled racism and injustice to make education available to everyone.
Samuel David Robinson and the beginning of Berkeley
A new era in education began when The Berkeley Institute opened at Samaritan’s Lodge on Court Street, Hamilton on September 6, 1897 with 27 students.
Berkeley was the realisation of a dream that began 18 years earlier when businessman Samuel David Robinson invited five men to his home Wantley on Princess Street, Hamilton on October 6, 1879 to discuss the feasibility of opening a high school. They established The Berkeley Educational Society and spent the next 18 years raising funds and public support for the school.
The school, which became the heading high school for black Bermudians during the era of segregation, was named after George Berkeley (1685-1753), an Anglo-Irish philosopher and Anglican bishop, whose plan to establish a college in Bermuda for native Americans a century earlier had foundered.
Five months after the school had opened, students were being prepared to take Cambridge exams (the forerunner of today’s GSCE’s) in scripture, Latin, French, English language and literature.
Berkeley's first headmaster was George DaCosta, who had been recruited from Jamaica to be headmaster of the Bermuda Collegiate Institute, which opened in 1892 as the first high school for black Bermudians. He remained Berkeley’s head for 37 years.
Edith Crawford, left, and Matilda Crawford devoted their lives to teaching.
Edith Crawford biography
Edith Crawford (1881-1978) and her cousin Matilda ‘Mattie’ Crawford (1879-1948) devoted virtually their whole lives to education and were founding members of the Bermuda Union of Teachers in 1919.
In an era when education got short shrift from the Government, teachers set up their own schools, after notifying the Board of Education, and ran them with a combination of Government funding and student fees. Free primary school education did not become a reality until the early 1950s.
In 1908 Edith founded the Central School in a room at Alaska Hall on Court Street, Hamilton with 12 students. Matilda started her own school at Till’s Hill, Pembroke in the early 1900s.
The clamour for education was such that by the 1920s, schools like the Crawfords were overcrowded and their one-room schoolhouses were in poor condition.
In 1928 Central, along with Matilda’s school, moved into the first wing of a new school built by Government at Glebe Road, Pembroke. The completed Central School was formally opened in 1931 with 900 students and 20 classrooms and became one of the Island’s top black primary schools.
Edith taught at Central until December 1949, aged 68. A month later she began teaching at Haven High School on Berkeley Road until it closed in 1966, bringing her 66-year teaching career to an end.
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Matilda taught at Central until her retirement in December, 1942. She continued to operate a school from her home until her death, aged 69.
Matilda Crawford biography
The Crawfords and the start of Central School
Assistant head teachers Mattie Crawford, Rev. Rufus Stovell and Edith Crawford (front), with Central School teachers in April 1934Photo: Courtesy of Victor Scott School
Victor Fitzgerald Scott (1896-1977) came to Bermuda from Jamaica in 1931 to teach at West End Primary School. In 1934, he became headmaster of Central School. Under his leadership, it became one of the Island’s top black primary schools, with a reputation for academic excellence and was later renamed Victor Scott School in his honour.
Central School opens
Adele Tucker (1868-1971), who lived to 102, was one of the most revered teachers of her era. She taught at a succession of schools, but is mostly closely identified with Paget Glebe School, where she was headmistress for more than 30 years. She also founded, with three other teachers, the Bermuda Union of Teachers, to address black teachers’ grievances, which included low pay and substandard working conditions.
Millicent “Millie” Neverson (1882-1975) was a 39-year-old widow when she arrived from the Caribbean in 1921 to teach at the Berkeley Institute. In 1926, she established Excelsior Secondary School on North Shore, Pembroke and later taught at Sandys Secondary School. In 1948, she opened The Haven, taking in children from neglected or broken homes and also ran a school from the same location.
Presbyterian minister the Rev. Francis Landey Patton (1843-1932) attended Warwick Academy and although he never taught in Bermuda, rose through the ranks of academia to become president of Ivy League school Princeton University.
Three educators who made a difference
In February 2007, a special stamp issue paid tribute to six ‘Pioneers of Progress’ in education: Millie Neverson, Edith and Matilda Crawford, Mary Francis and Franis L. Patton.