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1 Seay, Vivian, ( ), founder and head of Belize s Black Cross Nurses, a Garveyite, reform politician, and civil servant, was born to Francis and Margaret Myvett in colonial British Honduras. She attended Anglican elementary school in Belize Town and then entered the pupil-teacher system as a teenager. She taught in British Honduras and just across the border in Xcalak, Mexico, marrying Elizah Fitzgerald Seay in Her life from ages 24 to 37 is only partially documented, although she seems to have continued teaching after her marriage. She did not have children and, if living in Belize Town, did not qualify for the income and property-restricted female municipal franchise granted in In 1918 she signed a major petition, organized in Belize Town, which demanded reform of the Crown Colony and Unofficial Majority systems in order to avoid popular rebellion. She likely joined other middle-class female volunteers during the influenza epidemic crisis of late , and certainly entered the arenas of public health nursing and social work at about this time. In March 1920 she founded the Black Cross Nurses, and in April 1920 she became treasurer of the new Belize Town UNIA branch s female executive. Belizean Garveyism by this time was a politically reformist force, loyal to the British Empire, and opposed to the popular rioting of July Seay led the Nurses for the rest of her life; they became a launching pad for her growing political influence and activism through the 1950s. While the Belize UNIA foundered by 1930, the Nurses flourished. Seay recruited women to the Nurses, led a 1920 survey of Belize Town s poor neighborhoods that blamed infant mortality on maternal neglect and overcrowding, worked with the colonial Medical Department to secure the

2 Nurses training as volunteer maternal and infant health educators and midwives, initiated the Nurses annual participation in the September 10 th parade of friendly societies to Government House, where they pledged loyalty to the empire, and launched the Nurses annual Baby Exhibition, which awarded prizes to middleclass and elite youngsters in order to set a standard of parenting for the popular classes to emulate. She led the Nurses efforts to travel to a UNIA health conference in Jamaica in 1929 but was unable to secure the needed aid from Governor Burdon, whose wife was involved with the new more elite Infant Welfare League. But Seay generally had very cordial relations with British governors, medical officers, and their wives. Seay stood apart from and in some ways actively opposed the eruption of labor-nationalist militance in Belize in the 1930s. The Nurses looked after 1931 hurricane victims, expanded the Baby Exhibition beyond Belize Town, and organized a feeding program for schoolchildren. Seay campaigned for a male candidate in the Belize Town Board elections in late 1933 and was then appointed to the Board, its first female member. In this role she proposed an Employment Bureau for unemployed women to avoid them begging for work door to door, and helped create a fund to distribute groceries to deserving families. In early 1934 she spoke publicly as a Garveyite, Nurse, and BTB member in favor of legalizing divorce for the sake of community morality. On 1 August 1934 she and the Nurses led a parade to mark the centennial of slave abolition. In December 1934 during the height of anti-colonial fervor she proposed a Women s Land Settlement Scheme to be funded by the Colonial Development Fund, which would

3 have moved fifty single mothers out of Belize Town onto their own farms. In February 1935 she led two meetings, one under the auspices of the Nurses, to argue that women s voting age in a proposed partially-elected legislature be 21, equal to men s, but did not contest income and property qualifications. Militant working-class women immediately rejected her position and her right to speak for them, and demanded womanhood suffrage. That summer the British government awarded her the MBE (Member of the British Empire), the first Belizean so recognized. In 1938 she led the Nurses in collecting data on the diet, housing and income of 35 working-class families in Belize Town, which became a printed report presented to the members of the West India Royal Commission when they visited in November. It emphasized male-headed families struggling with unemployment. Appointed Inspector of Midwives in 1941, she became a paid civil servant. In 1948 she became the first female Justice of the Peace in Belize and attended at least one political meeting to support a reformist Legislative Council candidate. In the 1950s Seay reacted to the emergence of mass nationalism in the form of the People s United Party by attempting to revitalize the colonial reform tradition. In 1951 she co-founded the anti-nationalist National Party and accepted appointment to the Belize City Council after the Governor dissolved the elected majority-pup Council. In 1952 she co-founded the British Honduras Federation of Women, which tried but failed to undermine the PUP s popularity with working-class women. The Federation also launched a project to build a low-cost daycare for working mothers children, completed in In September 1953 the

4 Federation had a float in the Loyal and Patriotic Order of the Baymen s parade, an anti-nationalist event. She was a leader in the Save Our Country movement, which tried unsuccessfully to prevent the PUP renaming September 10 th National Day. She remained active in the opposition in the 1960s; in 1965 she was on the anti-nationalist National Independence Party s council for Philip Goldson s district, and in the late 1960s she was on the Belize City UNIA branch s executive in its dying days. The Nurses too were dwindling as professional nursing education developed, and training ended by Hailed by all factions when she died in Belize City and beloved by many, a street in Belize City is named after her and she is featured on a Belizean postage stamp. Seay epitomized the tension between empire loyalty and Creole nativism in Belizean middle-class politics. Her sustained female-centered activism was central in expanding and legitimizing respectable women s political activism in Belize but always took a didactic stance toward working-class mothers, families, and organizations. Bibliography Herrmann, Eleanor Krohn. Black Cross Nursing in Belize: A Labour of Love, Belizean Studies 8:2 (March 1980): Origins of Tomorrow: A History of Belizean Nursing Education (Belize: Ministry of Health, 1985).

5 Macpherson, Anne S., Colonial Matriarchs: Garveyism, Maternalism, and Belize s Black Cross Nurses, , Gender and History 15:3 (November 2003): From Colony to Nation: Women Activists and the Gendering of Politics in Belize, (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007) Anne S. Macpherson

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