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The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and Mrs Rose Leon

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Black and white photograph of a group on the UK Parliament terrace. There is approx. 20 men in the group and only one woman.
Photograph of the first Parliamentary Course on Parliamentary Procedure and Practice, June 1952, CPA/2/2/10

This photograph from our Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) collection has always been a favourite of mine. This is mostly due to the prominence of Mrs Rose Leon, the central figure, in this group shot taken on the iconic Palace of Westminster Terrace. The photograph is one of a number titled ‘Photographs of the first Parliamentary Course on Parliamentary Procedure and Practice run for the Legislators of Commonwealth Governments, 1952’. In this blog I will explore the origins of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the Parliamentary courses run by this organisation and the life of Mrs Rose Leon.


The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association

The CPA was founded in 1911 as the Empire Parliamentary Association and its affairs were administered by the United Kingdom Branch. After World War II growing nationalism and independence movements across the former British Empire were acknowledged by the Association when it changed it's name to the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in 1948. The Association also changed its rules to enable all member branches to participate in the management by establishing a separate secretariat to manage its affairs. The CPA still exists today with branches in more than 165 national, state, provincial and territorial Parliaments.  Its annual conferences analyse global political issues, and developments in the parliamentary system are debated among leading Parliamentarians representing Parliaments and Legislatures throughout the Commonwealth.


Courses on Parliamentary Procedure and Practice

The Parliamentary Courses on Parliamentary Procedure and Practice were one of the tools that the CPA used to promote good governance and implement continued professional development with its members.  The photograph of the first Parliamentary Course above is posed and, as we will discover, captures a luncheon, one of the social and networking aspects of the courses. We have other photographs from later courses, such as the one below which more candidly captures what the courses were like. It appears that all of the courses were initially hosted by the UK, a legacy of Empire, but later courses were hosted by different Commonwealth countries. While we don’t have an itinerary of the courses run in the 1950s, the organisation now runs an online version which covers topics such as ‘legislative process’, ‘scrutiny, accountability and oversight’ and the ‘principles of parliamentary procedure’.

Black and white photograph of men sitting around a table.
Photographs of a Parliamentary course, 1960s, CPA/2/2/17

Mrs Rose Leon

One of the most striking aspects of the photograph of the First Parliamentary Course is that it features a woman. In the mid-20th century, global politics was dominated by men, and although there were prominent women in politics at this time, it was the exception rather than the rule. The photograph shown below, also from the CPA collection, titled ‘The wives of Commonwealth Speakers’ Oct 1950 is more how I expected women to be represented in our collection at this time. But it is nice to be proved wrong by the presence of Mrs Rose Leon.

Black and white photo of approx. 20 women on the UK Parliament terrace
Photographs of the wives of Commonwealth Speakers, Oct 1950, CPA/2/2/5

The reverse of the photograph of the First Parliamentary Course identifies all the individuals pictured and which country they are representing. See the transcript below.

The Executive Committee of the United Kingdom Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association has arranged a Parliamentary course for members of Colonial Legislatures. The course runs from June 23rd to July 10th, 1952, and among those attending are members of the Legislatures of Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Jamaica, Barbados, the Windward Islands, the Federation of Malaya, Mauritius, Hongkong and Fiji. On Thursday, June 26th, the Legislators, together with a number of overseas visitors currently on holiday in the United Kingdom, were entertained to luncheon at the House of Commons. Prior to the luncheon a group photograph was taken on the Terrace of the Houses of Parliament.

Photo above (from left to right) sitting: Mr Harmar Nicholls, M.P., Mr. E,K. Dadson (Gold Coast), Mr. G.F R[H]osten (Grenada), Mrs. R. Leon (Jamaica), Mr. J. Roy (Mauritius), Mr. Tom Reid M.P., Mr J.E. Hagan (Gold Coast), Dr. C.E. Millien (Mauritius); standing: Mr Lo Man Wai (Hongkong), Mr. A.M.W. Douglas (Jamaica), Mr M{?}E. Cox (Barbados), Mr. K.S. Lin (Malaya), Mr. E.A. James (New Guinea a Papua), Mr Howard Haden (Fiji), Mr James Johnson M.P., Mr. E.A. Fellows (Clerk Asst. of the Houses of Parliament), Mr. S.Ade Ojo (Nigeria), Dr. M.I. Okpara (Nigeria), Major J.G. Lockhart (sec. Commonwealth Parliamentary Asso., U.K. Branch, Sir Charles Jeffried (Depurty Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies), Mr G.G. Briggs (Nigeria), Mr. R.W. Primrose (Hongkong), Mr. E.A.N. Ffoukes Grabbe (Gold Coast), Colonel O.F. Forbes (Ceylon).

Reverse of the photograph of the first Parliamentary Course on Parliamentary Procedure and Practice, June 1952, CPA/2/2/10

As Mrs Rose Leon is the only woman in the photo, she was easy to identify and subsequently easy to research. The obituary, linked below, describes her as an ‘Outspoken Jamaican politician who always put people first’. Before entering politics, Rose Leon successfully founded and ran the Leon School of Beauty Culture with her husband. She pioneered a line of locally made beauty products. Given the glamorous and confident woman pictured in our photo finding this information out made a lot of sense.

In 1948, she became the first woman to chair a national political party, the Jamaica Labour party, holding that position for 12 years during a period of growing self-government. In 1949, she was elected a member of the House of Representatives, and a year after our photograph was taken, she was appointed Minister of Health and Social Welfare. In 1960 she disagreed with the Jamaican Labour Party over its decision to withdraw from the Federation of the West Indies and left the party. Soon after, she switched sides, joining the People's National party, returning to the limelight in the late 1960s as a local councillor, and in 1971-2 as Deputy Mayor of Kingston.

She went on to become an MP and minister of local government in Michael Manley's 1972 administration. She lost her seat in the 1976 election, but the PNP government retained her as an adviser. Leon only retired from politics in her early 80s and continued teaching at her beauty school until she died. Born on 20 October 1913 she lived until the age of 85. She was killed in her home during an attempted robbery on 16 August 1999.

Black and white photograph of a group on the UK Parliament terrace. There is approx. 20 men in the group and only one woman.
Photograph of the first Parliamentary Course on Parliamentary Procedure and Practice
June 1952

This photograph and the research into who Mrs R. Leon was is one of the reasons that working with Archives is so fascinating. Archives continually surprise the researcher and provide insights into histories and people previously unknown.



CPA collection UK Parliamentary Archives website

Mrs Rose Leon Obituary

CPA HQ website

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