BUT History

A Brief Synopsis on the History of the Bermuda Union of Teachers

Rev. Rufus Stovell, Miss Adele Tucker, Miss Edith and Matilda Crawford in 1919 stood in contemplation at the St. John’s Church graveyard after the burial of one of their contemporaries, Miss Rosa Butterfield. This relatively young forty three year old headmistress had succumbed to cancer on January 21st. 1919. She was the third teacher in close succession to have suffered an untimely death. The loss of one teacher during the early 1900s was not without consequence to the black community. The loss of three was traumatic. In the words of Miss Adele Tucker, with this third death, “a blaze was kindled”.

Miss Rosa Butterfield taught at the St. Albans Hall on St. John’s Road. She had 100 pupils in two rooms and was assisted by two “monitors” - student teachers that had completed their seventh standard). Due to the insufficient numbers of teachers, it was not unusual for a school to consist of several hundred children with only two to three teachers. It was typical during the 19th and 20th century that persons would immediately begin as teachers after completing their seventh standard. There was no requirement for teachers' certification. The tragedy was hard felt by those standing at the grave site, each having schools of their own, who were undoubtedly not only pondering the death of a teacher, but understood the real impact of Miss Rosa Butterfield’s death to the black community. Her death was like the death of a school, as teachers were themselves like institutions. Miss Crawford herself had 400 students at her Till’s Hill School with only three teachers. Black education, during those times, was built on the backs of the benevolence and sacrifice of a few individuals. No doubt, each of the four at the grave site, understanding the near absolute dependency resting on their own shoulders, given their ages at the time, could foresee the impact that their own demise would have, should they also meet an untimely fate. They were acutely aware that they, like the deceased, were all victims of a systemic neglect for the educational needs of the Black population along with the all too familiar under appreciation of both the role and struggle of the teachers in that early 20th century society. They resolved at that grave site to remedy that situation.

As a result of that grave site meeting the Bermuda Union of Teachers (BUT) was born. February 1st 1919 was its official beginning. According to Miss Adele Tucker in her speech at the Leopard’s Club in 1959 they agreed at the grave site to form four committees and assigned, to each other, districts to explain the Union’s function and announce its first meeting. The meeting was scheduled to be held on Saturday, February 1st, some eleven days after the death of Miss Rosa Butterfield. At the first  meeting the structure of the BUT was formed placing the young Rev. Richard Tobitt as President,  Rev. Rufus Stovell as Vice President, Miss Edith Crawford as Secretary, and Miss Adele Tucker as the Treasurer.

Rev. Richard Tobitt’s presidency was short lived. He became an honourary member before leaving the island a few years later.

The BUT gained its initial support from approximately a third of the island’s black teachers. The early days were tenuous with the newly formed organization going through normal organizational travails after the departure of Rev. Richard Tobitt. These times would see quiet moments when on many occasions they could not find a quorum for their regular meetings. They managed, notwithstanding their travails to maintain an image of strength by providing the cohesiveness that helped bring about collective efforts such as interschool sports, joint concerts and interschool elocution contest. This small but aging group of pioneers with their dedication and efforts provided the beginning of a focus and an organized effort for the much needed institutionalization of education for the black population, which eventually helped break the obstacles that prevented proper public education for all Bermudian children regardless of race.

From the onset the efforts of the Union were characterized by their united stand to force a reluctant government to honour the needs of black children. The early founders, who were themselves major pillars upon which the education of our young rested, believed that it was a young person's right to an education along with the concomitant need for a government to produce an able resource of Bermudian teachers. The BUT, modeled on what they remembered of a summer teachers' training course in 1904, led the way by bringing teachers from America to conduct a summer training course for teachers in 1923. Some of their aims of getting more qualified Bermudian teachers were being met when in 1931 government began to provide funds to send potential black Bermudian teachers to the teachers' training colleges in Jamaica. Through pressure on government by the BUT that scholarship facility was expanded towards others whose choices were to study in England and Canada. With the Jamaica effort, the women went to Shortwood College and the men to Mico College for Teachers. Simultaneously to the overseas teachers' training initiative, the Board of Education conducted local summer and year round courses for teachers. The course instruction was provided by persons such as Dr. D.J. Williams, Dame Marjorie Bean and Dr. Kenneth Robinson. This new crop of fully trained teachers provided a much needed boost to Bermuda’s teacher capacity. At the time they also added strength to the BUT with persons like Mrs. Rosalind Robinson (nee Taylor) who became passionately involved with the aims and activities of the BUT. Like the others, for Mrs. Robinson, this exposure to the teachers training college and the success it was bringing, only magnified the need for qualified teachers. By 1937 the BUT had 42 members. Many of them by that time were certified teachers.

The efforts during the seemingly unrewarding and slow years of the thirties was characterized by the attributes of steadfast dedication and belief by those early leaders. They kept the educational vision and maintained the framework to address teaching concerns. But  little had changed for the plight of the teachers who were at times waiting for months to receive their meager pay. Indeed little had changed for the children who were still in dire need of adequate accommodation. But all of this would be aggressively challenged as the BUT hierarchy began to gain the fresh enthusiasm and intellectual vigour of the newly educated teachers returning from abroad. A new wave would emerge with persons such as Mr. Walter Robinson, Mr. Arnold Francis, Dr. Kenneth Robinson, Mr. F.S. Furbert, Mr. Neville Tatem, Mr. Russell Dismont, Mr. Alma Hunt and Mr. Earle Haughton. Dr. Kenneth Robinson,as president, would lead this revitalized effort in the early to mid-forties. During this period known as the “Fighting Forties” the BUT would be eye to eye with government continuing the arguments for more institutionalized strength for the education of our young. They began to strenuously lead the case for what amounted to the non-existence of teachers and their wholly inadequate salaries. In 1947 the BUT became the first registered trade union in Bermuda’s history.

It would not be long after when in 1948 the Teachers Association of Bermuda (TAB) also became a registered Trade Union. Indicative of the segregated social landscape of the times the founders of the TAB rejected early thoughts previously put forward by at least one of its members, of joining the BUT. Thus for almost two decades there would exist two unions kept apart by racial segregation. During the latter portion of the 1950s the tide of desegregation began. This new wave saw the introduction of the first purpose built desegregated high school, The Bermuda Technical Institute, whilst simultaneously the two unions began efforts to better conditions for teachers. They cooperated under what would be known as the JUSC (Joint Union Salaries Committee).

During Bermuda’s highly active social transition period of the 1960s the combined unions, through its vehicle, the JUSC staged a successful island wide teachers' strike in March 1963 gaining the support of the overwhelming majority of teachers. Following that strike the BUT gained in its numerical strength capturing the support of 85% of all teachers. They were further bolstered the next year, in 1964, when the Teachers Association of Bermuda, through negotiations, joined ranks with the Bermuda Union of Teachers. Mr. Colin Benbow’s efforts for the TAB input during this transitory period were considerable. It was a jaw breaking moment for both unions, with serious reservations being expressed by members from both sides, about giving up their name and perhaps even their histories to that point. Some prominent members of the BUT in particular, viewed it as a denigration of both the title and unique historical stand of the forerunners dating back to that 1919 grave site meeting. Notwithstanding, in a search for unity they were subsequently renamed as the Amalgamated Bermuda Union of Teachers. Dr. Eva Hodgson became the first leader of the Amalgamated Union of Teachers.

It should be noted that the TAB was pioneered by the efforts of the Association of Assistant Mistresses (AAM), a group of female associate teachers in 1943, at the Bermuda High School. It was later transformed into a full body of males and females and adopted the registered title TAB. The TAB, as a collective body, had great concerns for curriculum development for the white schools and greater institutional support for teachers. Their cause was very similar to that of the BUT. The TAB also had its beginning out of concern for the education of the young and to redress the systemic under appreciation of the role of teachers. In this amalgamation there was the hope of bringing an end to the segregated roles of the two unions which would also provide more economic and social clout to the efforts of both the BUT and TAB.

In 1997 the name ABUT was changed back to the original name of the BUT. The BUT as an organization is creditably not only Bermuda’s first union, but also the largest single bodied trade union enjoying 85% of the islands teachers. Today the BUT has a membership of approximately nine hundred, owns its headquarters at Seventy-Two Teachers’ Place, Church Street, and maintains an office with three permanent staff. The BUT is today an organization well recognized and respected internationally. Their voice and role in the education system cannot be avoided. In the words of one of its founders, “The smoldering embers have now burst forth in a blaze too strong to be extinguished." The BUT and its members are thoroughly appreciative of all the struggles and efforts made throughout the years by their founding and former members. It has become a quiet realization that following the death of a great educational benefactor, her comrades lifted her up in a new form. They carried her mission forward giving birth to the many educational fruits that we enjoy today. The legacy of that moment in history is the inherent cause of the BUT and the light that guides us continually onward.

“I would say to the present members of the union: go on in the name of the Lord! I bid you go on! And may God prosper your labours day by day."-as quoted from Miss Adele Tucker’s  Leopard’s Club speech in 1959.

Written by Khalid Wasi and Carolyn L Davis November 2004.

Edited by Admin Team BUT website April2012