Distinguished Women of Past and Present

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Mary Eugenia Charles

(1919- )

Prime minister of Dominica from 1980 to 1995, Mary Eugenia Charles was born May 15, 1919 in Pointe Michel, Dominica. She is a granddaughter of former slaves and one of five children of John Baptiste and Josephine Delauney. Her father was the founder of the Penney Bank. Her three brothers are doctors while her sister is a nun.

Charles attended Catholic schools in Dominica and Grenada, then, from 1942 to 1946, she went to the University College of the University of Toronto and received a B.A. in law. She continued her studies of law at the London School of Economics and Political Science. When she returned home in 1949, she became the first woman lawyer on this Caribbean island.

When the Dominica Labour Party attempted to limit dissent with a sedition act in 1968, Charles became involved in politics. In 1970, she was appointed to the legislature and in 1975, to the house of assembly, where she became the leader of the opposition. She co-founded the Dominica Freedom Party which helped Dominica win independence from Great Britain in 1978.

In 1980, Mary Eugenia Charles became prime minister of Dominica. She immediately began programs of economic reform and to end government corruption. She is a strict constitutionalist and her colleagues consider her a brilliant lawyer and a savvy polititian. In 1983, Charles encouraged the U.S. invasion of Grenada to prevent Cuban infiltration of that island.

In 1985, she won the second five-year term and also became minister of foreign affairs, finance, economic affairs and of defense. In 1990, she won her third term as prime minister. Her primary concern was to improve the lives of the citizens. She encouraged tourism to a small degree, but was determined to preserve the island's ecology and national identity. There are no casinos in Dominica, no night clubs and no duty-free shops, and Charles wants to keep it that way. This is in keeping with Dominica's motto, which, in Creole, is Après Bondie, c'est la Ter, ('After God, the Earth').

Contributed by Danuta Bois, 1998.

Bibliography:
1. Women Who Ruled: A Biographical Encyclopedia by Guida M. Jackson, Barnes & Noble Books, 1998
2. Women World Leaders: Fifteen Great Politicians Tell Their Stories by Laura A. Liswood, Pandora/HarperCollins, 1995

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