History: One Hundred Years On From The Deaconess Home School to St Hugh’s High School

By Charmaine McKenzie

Deaconess Home School, established in 1899, having survived and developed into the St Hugh’s High School for Girls, is testimony to the determination of the Deaconess Order and the commitment of the Diocese of Jamaica to education in Jamaica.

The Deaconess Order played an important role in late nineteenth century Jamaica, stepping into the breach to fill a void left by the colonial administration in the fields of education and health care. The teaching section of the Home was the idea of Archbishop Enos Nuttall and the first school founded by them was the Cathedral High School in Spanish Town. This was followed by a school in Port Antonio, then the Deaconess Home School, which was not initially a high school but a place where “respectable” young ladies could gain practical training in areas which were deemed to be important for young ladies.

The head of the teaching branch of the Deaconess Order, Sister Madeline Thomas, took particular interest in the new school which started in January of 1899 on premises beside the Deaconess Home, at 91 1/2 Hanover Street. The first principal was Miss L. McDougall and the first intake numbered 24 pupils. Boarding accommodation was offered from the beginning of the school, with the boarders living initially at the Deaconess Home and later at a house at the corner of Hanover and Charles Streets when additional space was needed. Some boarders were daughters of Jamaicans who were working in Panama in the Canal Zone.

The Jamaica Churchman of April 22, 1899 records an advertisement for the Preparatory Branch of the Deaconess Home School which was to be opened on Monday, May 1, 1899, at 82 Duke Street. This school was intended for children “over five and under nine” years old, who were to be prepared for admission to the Deaconess Home School. However, brothers of girls attending the Deaconess Home School or the preparatory school could attend the School up to the age of nine. Again, Sister Madeline was responsible for its “general direction” and Miss M.H. Kilburn was responsible for day-to-day teaching. The school fee was nine pence per week and the school day was from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

With the need for education growing in the country, and with girls at a disadvantage for post elementary education, the Deaconesses started a high school in 1913, the Deaconess Home High School for Girls, at 106 East Street. This followed a steady rise in the number of girls attending the Home School over the years, and an expansion in the curriculum in 1905 to allow students to sit the external University of Cambridge examinations. By this time, the efforts of the Church received some assistance from the government through payment of the rental of £20 per year for the Home School.

In 1925, the schools were amalgamated under the name The Deaconess High School and this school was recognised as a secondary school. The amalgamated school started its new term in September 1925 with 90 students, 22 of whom were boarders. When the Jamaica Schools Commission requested that the school’s name be changed, the name chosen was Saint Hugh’s High School. Saint Hugh’s College at Oxford, England, was the college attended by Miss Evelyn Stopford who became principal in 1926. This name change took place in 1928 and St Hugh was chosen as the school’s patron. The school’s colours of blue and gold were chosen as well as the swan as the emblem and “fidelitas” as the motto. Miss Barbara Ormsby a member of staff, wrote the words of the school song and Miss Mavis Binns, another member of staff, wrote the tune. The first St Hugh’s Day was celebrated in the school hall.

The dynamic Sister Madeline resigned from the Diocese in 1927 and returned to England where she died the following year.
Under Miss Stopford’s stewardship the school expanded its curriculum and introduced several extra-curricular activities in the school. Miss Stopford is said to have been a “pioneer in the field of further education” and is credited with establishing “post-matriculation” classes for students who wanted to study for higher external examinations or to study subjects “of a cultural nature”. A scholarship awarded by the St George’s Church committee went to Thelma Rose, now Thelma Campbell, a Distinguished Past Student.

Miss Stopford resigned and returned to England in 1931 perhaps frustrated by the cramped quarters occupied by the school in the heart of the city, where there was no room for expansion. A succession of principals followed, including Miss Wilhelmina Joels who in 1933 started what was then called the Old Girls’ Association. Miss Joels left a sum of money in her will for an annual geography prize.

In 1938 the school was divided into houses to foster friendly competition and discipline. The houses were Nelson [named for Admiral Horatio Nelson], Nuttall [named for Enos Nuttall] and York [named for the Duke and Duchess of York]. In 1937, five girls sat the school certificate and four passed. Of the13 who sat the Junior Cambridge, nine passed. The school placed second in the island’s elocution contest.

In 1939, a property in the Cross Roads area was put up for sale. Known as Airlie, it consisted of about seven acres and belonged to a Mr P.E.N. Mortimer, the manager of Barclays Bank. Bishop Hardie was instrumental in procuring the land with the “gracious old house” as a permanent home for Saint Hugh’s High School. St Hugh’s moved to its new location at 1 Leinster Road and opened for classes in January 1940. It also had a new principal, Miss Rita Gunter (later Landale). Boarders lived on the top floor of the house and the ground floor accommodated three classrooms for the 145 high school students, one for the 13 preparatory school students and “a corner of the verandah (now the sick room) was closed in to make a tiny study for the Headmistress”. Mrs Landale describes the premises in the early days:
Imagine a large, rather friendly old house set on about six or seven acres of land, with a lovely garden of about two acres in front of it, commanding a magnificent view of the mountains, and behind the house thick, dense, ‘bush’, as we say in Jamaica, and ‘bush’ that had a large proportion of ‘Roast Pork’ in it …

When the task of clearing the land of the “roast pork” to put down tennis courts and playing fields seemed too daunting for the men employed to do it, Mrs Landale recalls that a number of women known as “weed women” were enlisted to do it and succeeded.

Within the first year of occupation of the spacious Leinster Road premises, a new building was constructed close to the original house. This building housed an assembly hall, a staff room and three classrooms.

In spite of difficulties brought on by World War II, the school was elevated to the level of First Grade Secondary School in 1943, from the Second Grade in which it had been placed in 1928. Two hundred and twenty-five students were on roll in 1946 in the High School and 90 in the Preparatory Department. In 1946 the school won its first Jamaica Scholarship, which was awarded to Glory Robertson, after only one year’s work after the School Certificate Examination. The School also won prizes in the annual Matley Essay Competition as well as first places in art, music and drama competitions.
The school boasted a wider curriculum than other secondary schools in Kingston, as it was said to have been the only one that offered home economics, handicrafts and home nursing, perhaps reflecting the influence of its beginnings in the Deaconess Home. The school also had an orchestra which “produced outstanding work”. However, as the government’s grant was so small, the orchestra had to be abandoned as it could not be supported from the available funds.

The Preparatory Department was also experiencing problems. It had outgrown the space allocated at 1 Leinster Road. Mr Reginald Melhado stepped in, donating a building which was opened in 1947 and which accommodated the Preparatory Department and a Nursery Department, the only one then existing in a school of this type. However, these departments quickly outgrew the area allocated to them (Rooms 27-29) and in the 1950s moved to 1 Tom Redcam Drive.
In 1948 a new block of buildings was formally opened: a library, an art room and science laboratory. New “open air” classrooms were added in 1949. The library was run by Miss Ethel Kingdon, who also taught history. Under Miss Kingdon’s management, the library gained the reputation of being one of the best school libraries in Jamaica. As a mark of appreciation, the library was named the Ethel Kingdon Library.

In the 1960s the number of houses increased to four with the addition of Hardie house, in recognition of Bishop Hardie’s contribution to the school’s relocation to Leinster Road. By 1960, the School had almost 600 students on roll. A new laboratory was built which was used for physics teaching. This was an addition to the existing biology and chemistry laboratories. A Commercial Department was opened in 1965 and in the late 1960s a modern language laboratory was built, along with a swimming pool.

In 1962, after 22 years at the helm of the school Mrs Landale retired and Mrs Inez Carnegie, who was the vice-principal, was appointed the new principal. Under her management, the School continued to expand in many ways. A Development Fund Campaign was launched in April 1967, with the aim of raising £100,000 over a three-year period. The Chairman of this Fund was Mr Aaron Matalon. The proceeds from this venture went towards building the Home Economics block on the site previously occupied by the Airlie house, which was demolished due to termite infestation. Another result of the Campaign was the building of the gymnasium and refurbishing of the old hall to serve as the canteen. Also during this period, in 1969, an extension school, the St Hugh’s Extension School, was established to help address the demand for additional secondary school spaces. This was absorbed in 1978 when the government introduced the two-shift system in schools. After a few years in operation, the school returned to a single-shift system.

The school’s boarding facility or “The Hostel” as it was fondly called, was closed in 1969 when its matron, Mrs Williams, retired. In its usual practical manner, the school’s management took the opportunity to transform the building into part of the school compound, called “The Annex”. The Annex housed the art and business departments, additional classrooms and a small canteen.

Over the period of the 1970s and into the 1980s the School continued to expand, increasing its land space through gentle but persistent persuasion. When removal plans which were visualised in the 1970s by Mrs Carnegie did not materialise, alternate arrangements had to be made. Through negotiations over the years, the school acquired the Aub house and also secured permission to use a portion of the Caenwood property for a playing field. Property at 7 Leinster Road was also brought into the ambit of the school in 1976. All these developments went a far way in making life more comfortable for staff and students.

Following Mrs Carnegie’s resignation in 1979, Miss Marjorie Thomas became principal. She was followed in 1987 by Mrs Marcia Stewart, a past student of the school, succeeded by Miss Daphne Morrison who acted as principal until the appointment of Mrs Yvette Smith in 1996.

The School has increased its physical boundaries from approximately seven acres to 11 acres over the 59 years of its occupation of Leinster Road. It continues to emphasise the development of the whole person by encouraging academic as well as spiritual excellence. With nearly 1,500 students in this anniversary year, one hundred years on, the result of the important “social and educational experiment” begun in 1899 continues to reverberate into the new millennium.

The following is an edited version of the article written by past student Charmaine McKenzie. It is reproduced from the Commemorative Magazine, June 1999. Copies of the magazine are available at reduced costs.