Thursday, 31 May 2007

School Days ...

Remembering my mother's schooling and teaching career got me thinking about Jamaican schools and school days in general and what I know about the various members of my family and what schools they attended.

The following is the entry for my father in the Jamaica Who's Who, 1941-1946:

I'm not familiar with the Kingston Board School ... perhaps someone knows more about it, but I did know that he went to St. George's College, and was nineteen years old when he joined the Civil Service. Here again is a picture of St. George's College, courtesy of the website of the St. George's College Old Boys Association, Toronto Chapter.

In his book, History of the Catholic Church in Jamaica (Chicago: Loyola Press, 1988), Father Francis J. Osborne describes the founding of St. George's in 1850 by a group of Colombian Jesuits who were newly arrived from South America, having been ejected from Colombia by the president Jose Lopez. There were objections on religious grounds from Protestant citizens, but the school went ahead offering the following curriculum: Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, English, Rhetoric, History, Mathematics, Logic, Metaphysics, Ethics, Drawing, and Calligraphy

Thanks to the Jamaica Gleaner online I've actually found a few items about my father's school days! The Gleaner of December 18, 1905 reports that St. George's College held an elocution contest at Gordon Hall on December 15th, at which "the large hall was packed, not only with the Roman Catholic community, but also a large number of citizens of other denominations". The article went on to report that Master Michael Levy of the junior division opened with "'Mary Queen of Scots' which was very nicely rendered'. Among the other contestants from the junior division were Master Harold Brodhurst, Master John Cassis, and Master Brian Sicard. The Gleaner stated that "the names of the successful competitors would be announced at the annual distribution of prizes to take place at the Theatre Royal on the 21st instant"

This was indeed the case, but unfortunately my father did not win the elocution contest. In the junior division the gold medal went to Vernon Purdon, with John Cassis, Jnr. and Brian Sicard getting honorable mention. However my father won honorable mention in several subjects at the prizegiving, including Academic, French, Arithmetic and Christian Doctrine.

This is my father's younger sister, Essie Gertrude Levy.

I don't know for sure what school Essie attended, but most likely it would have been the Convent of Mercy, St. Mary's, known as Alpha, named for the property on which the orphanage and girls' school was founded in 1880.

The above photo of the present Alpha Academy is from the website, Network for Mercy Education.

I assume that my father's younger brothers, Leo and Joe, would have also gone to St. George's. These two schools, along with Immaculate Conception Academy, founded in 1858 and first located on property at East Queen Street, a gift of Henry Vendryes, would have been the schools that children of Catholic families would have attended in Kingston.

Friday, 25 May 2007

All About My Mother .-- Part 2

Why did I call my mother a feminist, a description she probably wouldn't have agreed with? Mainly because she went out to work, in spite of the objections of her mother and her two older sisters. She worked as a teacher ... and this is where I wish I had asked more questions! My mother was taught by Miss L. McDougal and later became a teacher at Miss McDougal's school. I have never been able to discover Miss McDougal's first name ... yet I actually met her, after I was married and had returned to Jamaica for one of our regular visits. My mother and I were shopping downtown and ran into Miss McDougal. I vaguely remember a very elderly lady and could not now for the life of me describe her, but what absolutely struck me was the love and respect my mother showed to her. I think each of us has at least one teacher from our school days who made an impression on us and it was obvious that Miss McDougal meant a great deal to my mother.

It has not been easy trying to find out about this period in my mother's life. Thinking about it now I have to confess I don't even know what schools my two aunts went to. I was, however, able to find out the name of the school my mother attended ... it was called Victoria Girls' School and was located at 28 Victoria Avenue, and its Headmistress was Miss McDougal. I found this information through research in the online edition of the Jamaica Gleaner, which has been a tremendous resource.

Among my mother's possessions is a photograph of her in an attractive costume, holding a tambourine, and it was this photo that prompted me to delve more into her school days.

There is nothing on the photo to say where it was taken or what the occasion was, but I think I may have discovered that! After numerous searches in the Gleaner on the name "McDougal" I came across a couple of stories about prize giving functions at Victoria Girls' Secondary School. One in particular may hold the answer to the mystery of the photograph. This is from the Gleaner of December 20, 1912, and begins:

"The breaking-up of the Victoria Girls' School, No. 28 Victoria Avenue, conducted by Miss McDougal, came off sucessfully at St. George's Schoolroom by kind permission of the Rev. J. L. Ramson on Tuesday night last; His Grace the Archbishop presided during a portion of the function and, on retiring, his place was taken by Mr. McFarlane, Principal of the Mico College".

The story goes on to relate that Miss McDougal, after giving a report on the school, announced that she was closing it and taking the position, offered to her by Sister Madeline, of Headmistress of the Deaconess Home School. This new school would become Arcadia School ... more of that later ... but to return to my mother ... further on in the story is the following:

"The programme was then proceeded with and the children acquitted themselves remarkably well. The Ribbon and Tamboureen [sic] Drills, which were admirably executed, were highly appreciated, as was testified to by the prolonged applause of the audience".

Surely this photograph has to be of my mother doing the Ribbon and Tambourine Drill! She would have been about eighteen at the time.

After she left school my mother taught under Miss McDougal at the Arcadia School which was located at 13 West Avenue, Kingston Gardens. In the Gleaner of May 22, 1922, I found a report on the Prize Giving at Arcadia School. The pupils had recently presented an operetta at the Ward Theatre, the proceeds of which were donated to the Wortley Home Orphanage at Constant Spring. In her report on the work of the school Miss McDougal thanked "her assistants, viz: Misses Berry, Noad and Smedmore for the whole-hearted interest and careful training of the pupils to which alone the success of the entertainment was undoubtedly due". In the prize list is the following: Form IVb prize, awarded to Muriel Dias by Miss Smedmore; Form IIIb prize, awarded to Olga Holtz by Miss Smedmore.

My mother got married April 27, 1926, but she seems to have kept a connection to the school even though she did not work after marriage. The Gleaner reports on May 19, 1927 on yet another Arcadia School Prize Giving at which my mother, now referred to as Mrs. Levy, awarded the prize for Cambridge Senior Exam to Geraldine Bodden. By now, however, she was the mother of a young child, my brother Micky, who was born April 2, 1927, and her teaching career was over.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

All About My Mother ...

I should have had this done for Mother's Day but other stuff intervened ...

My mother always told me that she and my Dad were engaged for seven years. Why, I asked? Well, he had to help support his mother who was a widow. He was the eldest son ... the two younger boys, Leo and Joe, had gone to the United States, and the only girl, Essie had also left for New York. The funny thing about this story was that my grandmother Levy was afraid that Leo and Joe would be forced to join up during the First World War. (My father, apparently, was not considered fit enough to join up .. I think he had flat feet). Since the Americans weren't in the war then it seemed a good idea to send Leo and Joe to the States. Well, I never did find Leo's immigragion record, though I'm still looking. He probably went to the States before Joe, who sailed to New York aboard the ss Catherine Cuneo on August 28, 1917. Considering that the U.S. had entered the war in April 1917 this particular reason doesn't seem to make a lot of sense where Joe was concerned! At any rate, my Dad remained in Jamaica, the sole support of his mother, as my grandfather, Leopold Levy, had died in February 1917 in Santiago, Cuba.

But this is supposed to be about my mother. She was the youngest girl of the three Smedmore girls, the only one to get married and the only who ever actually worked outside the home.

This picture was taken before she was married to my father. I think, looking back now at what I know about her, she would have been considered a feminist for her time. Yes, they did have to wait to get married because of my father's responsibilities, but I gather there was also some opposition to my father from my grandmother Smedmore and my two aunts, Sylvia and Elma. Which brings up another interesting fact about the Smedmore family. Not too many of them got married, and most of those who did married later in life. (Except for my uncle, Lucius, who defied the family and got married at the tender age of twenty-five.) When I asked my mother why three of my uncles and my two aunts never married her response was that the men had never found a woman as good as their mother and the women had never found a man to equal Papa.

This opposition, however, did not deter my mother and my parents were finally married on April 27, 1926, at Kingston Parish Church, and as the reception appears to have been held at 49 Beeston Street one must assume that the family came round in the end. In fact, Julian, my mother's youngest brother, was best man.

Things must have been difficult for my parents at the beginning of their marriage. They could not at first afford their own home and lived at 49 Beeston Street for some time. My brother, Michael Owen Dey Levy, known to all as Micky, was probably born there on April 2, 1927. I don't know how long they lived there. One of my Da Costa cousins remembers visiting my Grandma Levy at her house at 22 Beeston Street and recalls that my Dad came over to visit with his friend, Joe Kelly, and a little boy, which was most likely my brother. Here is a photo taken at 49 Beeston Street of Micky with our cousin, Marjorie, eldest daughter of Lucius, and our aunt Elma in the background.

Micky was probably about four or five when my parents moved to a house on Anderson Road which I think they probably rented. I wish now I'd asked what the exact address was. In fact, there are a lot of questions I wish that I had asked my mother ... this is the main regret of most genealogists who come to family history later in life and realize that they've missed the opportunity to talk to the family elders and get all the facts and lost in the mists of time.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

The First Man in My Life ....

.... was my father, Michael Leopold Levy. (I've borrowed the heading for this post from Sandra Martin, whom I heard read from her new book, The First Man in My Life: daughters write about their fathers, published by Viking, 2007).

This is a picture of my parents and myself, at 5 Holborn Road, probably taken shortly after they had moved there. I remember as a child that my father would carry me around on his shoulders and sing to me in a high sweet tenor voice such oldies as "Silver Threads Among the Gold" or "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen". He would also sing opera arias ... this may be where I got my love of opera. I definitely remember him singing "M'appari" from the opera, Marta. And he would tell me stories ... he made up a whole series of tales about two little dogs, Blackie and Whitey, who just happened to exist on the label for Black & White Whiskey.My father was the breadwinner of the family .... my mother had worked as a teacher before she married but didn't work after marriage. As I mentioned in a previous post, they lived across the street from each other in Kingston. My father worked in the Jamaica Civil Service in the Administrator-General's Department which he joined in 1908, at the age of 19. He had attended St. George's College, on North Street in Kingston, a Catholic boy's high school, which had been founded by the Jesuits in 1850.

This photo of St. George's College is from the website of the St. George's College Old Boys Association, Ontario Chapter.

My father eventually rose to First Class Clerk and by 1948 was promoted to Trustee in Bankruptcy. I remember that as long as I knew him his hair was perfectly white. My mother said it had been like this from his youth, though it does not look quite like that in their wedding picture. This is a copy of the photograph which appeared in The Gleaner when they were married on April 27, 1926 at the Kingston Parish Church.

My Dad was the most easy-going guy I ever knew. Although he had been brought up Catholic and had gone to a Catholic school, he went along with my mother who was adamant about remaining Anglican (and high-church Anglican at that) and so they were married in the Kingston Parish Church, after being engaged for seven years, as my mother told me ... but that's another story.

Arras Memorial

Arras Memorial

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore

Trooper Victor Dey Smedmore
My uncle Victor