Janet Jagan

Lived:October 20, 1920—March 28, 2009 (aged 88)
Career:Prime minister of Guyana, 1997
President of Guyana, 1997-1999
First lady of Guyana, 1992-1997
Party:People's Progressive Party

Janet Jagan, Guyana's fourth executive president, achieved a number of firsts in her long history of involvement in her adopted country's politics. She was to become Guyana's first woman Deputy Speaker, its first woman to be elected to the Georgetown City Council, its first woman cabinet minister, the country's first woman prime minister, and the nation's first woman president.

Born in Chicago, Illinois on October 20, 1920, she was educated at the University of Detroit, Wayne University, Michigan State College and Cook County School of Nursing. She married Cheddi Jagan on August 5, 1943.

She arrived in British Guiana with her husband in 1943. Within three years, she was instrumental in the formation of a women's political and economic organization and later a co-founder of the Political Affairs Committee that was the forerunner to the People's Progressive Party (PPP). She worked with the country's legendary labor hero, Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow; and was also a leading figure in organizing strikes by sugar workers in 1948 during a period when a group of workers, who came to be known as the Enmore Martyrs, were shot by the police.

In 1950, Jagan co-founded the PPP, along with her husband; trade union expert and lawyer, Ashton Chase; the late Jocelyn Hubbard, another trade union figure; Ram Karran; Sydney King and others. Also in 1950, she was elected General Secretary of the PPP, a post she retained until 1970; and became the first woman elected to the Georgetown City Council.

Jagan entered the House of Assembly for the first time in 1953, when she was elected Deputy Speaker. She was among the political prisoners of that year—others included her husband and the late national poet, Martin Carter—following the suspension of the constitution by the British government on allegations of a communist conspiracy.

In 1957, when fresh elections were held and the PPP returned to office, Jagan was appointed Minister of Labor, Health and Housing. In 1963 and 1964, she served as Minister of Home Affairs and senator, following the death of Minister Claude Christian. She resigned as Home Affairs Minister in 1964, declaring non-cooperation from the then British-controlled police force and subversion of her government. Splitting her time and energy between party headquarters, Freedom House and as editor of the PPP-backed Mirror newspaper, Jagan returned to parliament in successive elections in 1973, 1980, 1985 and 1992.

Jagan became First Lady of the Republic with her husband's inauguration as Executive President in October 1992, and then served for a six-month period as Guyana's Ambassador to the United Nations.

In March 1997, when President Jagan died, she became the country's first woman prime minister and first vice-president. On December 19, 1997, she was sworn in as president and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, when the PPP won the elections. She resigned due to ill health in 1999.

Jagan has written a number of publications, largely children's books, which include stories of Guyana's struggle for independence. She was the recipient of the country's highest honor; the Order of Excellence (OE). She also received the Woman of Achievement Award from the University of Guyana and, in 1997, the Gandhi Gold Medal for Peace, Democracy and Women's Rights by UNECSO. Jagan died March 28, 2009.