Dame Doris Johnson, born 1921, and a teacher by profession, was the first Bahamian woman to be nominated to contest an election in the Bahamas. She was also the first woman to be appointed to the Senate, the first woman to be made a government Leader and President of the Senate, and the first woman to be made Minister of Government.
Like women such as Georgina Symonette, Mable Walker, Eugenia Lockhart, and Albertha Isaacs, among others, she was an early participant in the Women's Suffrage Movement of the 1950s in the Bahamas. This movement in the Bahamas had been founded by Mary Ingraham who became its first president.
Doris Johnson, with the help of the Progressive Liberal Party (which she joined in 1956), the Bahamian Federation of Labour and the National Council of Women which she helped to establish in 1958, mobilized the women suffrage movement into a fighting force. The vote for women was finally won in 1962. Males over 21 already had the franchise since 1959.
Johnson was nominated as a PLP candidate for the Eleuthera District in the 1962 elections, but withdrew from the race; but she contributed much to Bahamian social and political life until her death in 1983.
Source: Verene A. Shepherd, ed. Women in Caribbean History: The British-Colonised Territories. Kingston: Ian Randle Publishers, 1999.
SPEECH by January 19, 1959
“Mr.Speaker and members of the Honourable House of Assembly, today
invincible womanhood, mother of men and ruler of the world, raises her
noble head and approaches the courts of justice with the clarion call
for equal rights for all Bahamian Women.
“Mr. Speaker and members of the Honourable House of Assembly, the
Women’s Suffrage Movement speaks today on behalf of over fifty-four
thousand women; more than one half of the total adult population of our
islands. The women of The Bahamas have been awakened to their
responsibilities and duties as citizens for many generations, and in the
last thirty or thirty-five years women have vigorously carried out
their duties and responsibilities in a manner comparable to those
performed by the women of any highly civilized country. True, we have
not been violent agitators because we have accepted the traditional
theory that civic and political responsibilities were ably carried out
by our men.
“Today women have, by force of circumstances, taken on increasing
responsibilities to ensure the proper development and growth of our
homes, our children and our social institutions. Bahamian women have
risen to give outstanding leadership services in business activities,
welfare work, home and school organizations, as well as the extension of
brotherly love in one hundred fraternal and friendly societies
throughout the Islands.
“In nearly all these organizations women have already learnt how to
use democratic techniques of government and the principles of choosing
their representatives. We nominate and elect officers, and keenly watch
their services to the group, returning them again to leadership when
they have served us well. We know of the many selfish intrigues which
sometimes motivate men and women to seek re-election to offices and are
aware of our responsibilities to rid the group of corrupt and improper
leadership when once the welfare of the group is threatened. We have
therefore learnt to choose our leaders well and wisely. The same
principles will guide us now as we seek to assume our duties and
responsibilities in guiding the destiny of our beloved Islands.
“An earlier petition for Women’s Suffrage was presented in 1952 by
the Great Improved, Benevolent, Protective Order of Elks of the World,
an organization with membership of over ten thousand and with six
temples in the Out Islands.
“We regret that the petition submitted to the House on the 1st
December, 1958, was grossly misrepresented as coming from thirteen
petitioners and five hundred and twenty-nine others. The forty-five page
petition, of which Photostat copies have been preserved, was signed by
two thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine persons living in such widely
scattered islands as Exuma, Grand Bahama, Abaco, Long Island,
Eleuthera, Andros and New Providence.
“We wish to go on record in protesting to the House that a great
injustice has been done to the people’s cause and that this rash,
irresponsible deed can only be vindicated by a noble act on the part of
the Assembly. To be deceived is regarded by women as one of the greatest
crimes against their faithful trust, since faithfulness is the basic
principle upon which we build our homes, rear our children and build our
“We women have accepted and paid all the taxes which are imposed upon
us by a Government in which we now have no representation. Since we are
powerless to limit these taxes, we are forced to bring charges of
tyranny and despotism against this, our Government, if it further denies
us our rights to choose those who must rule over us and share in the
making of our laws.
“Should the Government agree to abolishing all taxes of every kind
including stamp duties, and custom duties on goods and properties owned
by women, we would regard this as detrimental to the progress of our
country, but mind you, we would be justified in refusing to pay your
taxes, since we women are ineligible to vote.
“We do not wish to be regarded as rebellious, but we would point out
to you that to cling sullenly or timidly to ancient, outmoded ways of
government is not in the best interest of our country.
“We therefore earnestly desire that this regime go on record as an
enlightened democratic body, by ordering the immediate enumeration and
registration of all women twenty-one years and over so that they may
carry out their duties as full citizens in the next by-election or
“WE WOMEN PRESS THIS DEMAND AND ASK SUCH ENACTMENT ON THE BASIS OF
NOT WHO IS RIGHT, BUT WHAT IS RIGHT FOR OUR COUNTRY. WE JUDGE EXPEDIENCY
ONLY ON THIS BASIS. WE SEEK NO COMPROMISE. THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE. WE
ABHOR ANY DELAYING ACTION. WE WOMEN ASK ONLY THAT YOU GENTLEMEN MOVE NOW
TO SECURE THE RIGHTS OF FIFTY-FOUR THOUSAND WOMEN, INCLUDING YOUR WIVES
“Approximately half of the female population are working women, many
of whom are the entire support of their families. Many have built their
own homes, have bank accounts, established themselves in business and
pay government taxes. An earlier petition points out to the Honourable
House that it is a violation of the principles of democracy to grind out
taxes from people who are without the power to limit or extend such
taxes. Taxation without representation as you will recall was the basic
principle upon which the American Revolution was based, and which due to
the short-sightedness of the British King George III and his Ministers
lost for Britain our great and beneficient neighbor, The United States
of America. It is this principle which still stirs a revolt in the
hearts of Bahamian women and energizes us to make our plea before
“We women grieve and are deeply concerned when our sons and
daughters, tried in the courts of law, find always that they are faced
by a male group of jurors. We firmly believe that it is our democratic
right that women should serve on these juries, but without the vote, the
whole country is denied the benefit of full and impartial judgment
“We women are extremely concerned that the plight of delinquent girls
is taken so lightly by our Government. The hearts of mothers grieve at
the revolting practice of sending poor girls eight, nine, ten and eleven
years to live in jail with seasoned criminals. Active participation in
government by Bahamian Women will see an end to such practices, and
proper care and guidance will be given to those whose real crime is only
poverty and insecurity.“There are other grievances which we women have.
Local government in our islands is administered through boards and
There are eleven boards consisting of 56 members. There are
twenty-one committees assisted by advisory committees and on these there
are seven women who are privileged to serve only in inferior
capacities. There are two hundred Justices of the Peace from whose ranks
women are totally excluded. There are Out Island Commissionerships in
which no woman is invited to serve.
“The Houghton Report on Education suggests to Government the
advisability of including women on the proposed Advisory Committee to
the Board of Education. While wholeheartedly endorsing this suggestion,
we further wish to show the advisability of including women on the Board
of Education and any other Board which deals with the welfare of our
homes, schools and communities.
“Gentlemen, hear me. It requires the insight and interests of women
to investigate, report on and seek improvement for many projects that
men are not naturally interested in an you would be free to turn your
energies to more manly pursuits. We women wish to serve our country and
assist your efforts in attending to such projects as housing schemes,
slum clearance, establishment of libraries and local welfare services,
supervision of food and drug supplies, and the establishment of
reasonable and respectable lodgings for temporary visitors from our Out
“Mr. Speaker and members of the Assembly, putting aside our
grievances, we women raise our hearts and heads to loftier things: our
willingness and readiness to participate as full citizens in the affairs
of our country. We women are ready, willing and able. YOU MUST NO
LONGER DENY US OUR RIGHTS.
“Your humble petitioner thanks God for this opportunity to speak to
your hearts and consciences and prays that speedy action will be taken
by you to bring about the enumeration and registration of all Bahamian
women twenty-one years and over
Source: The Faith that move the Mountain, Sir Randol Fawkes