The Professionals

Dr. Hubert Clarence Edwards was a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Canada and he had Been practicing medicine in Colon since 1917.

Dr. Hubert Clarence Edwards was a graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Canada and he had Been practicing medicine in Colon since 1917.

By Lydia M. Reid

We’ve discussed at great length about the impressive contribution of the thousands of West Indian working men and laborers who were instrumental in the building of both the Panama Railroad and the Panama Canal and its continued operation into our present day.  We would like, however, to highlight the role of the many important professionals who provided many valuable services to both Westindian and Panamanian citizens alike at a time when such professionals were in low supply and high demand.

We’ve gleaned some significant names from an article appearing in the March 2, 1947 issue of the Panama Tribune that also gives a more accurate picture of the bustling Panama of a time when the Republic had a truly West Indian face.  It also gives an insight into the staggering blow to these professions and businesses caused by the restrictive “prohibited immigrant” laws of 1941.  The article was entitled “Professional Men” and we’ve provided a glimpse in the following excerpt.

“The consolidated position of the West Indian in the upper stratum of Isthmian society was established prior to the early 1930’s when the number of professional men of this group was large and varied.

West Indian professional men stood high in the esteem of their fellow men and were profoundly respected by the leaders of other ethnic groups.  They led their community social and civic life.  In them the West Indian community exemplified its qualities of intelligence and leadership in fields other than common labor.  However, nationalism arose to dissolve a condition that made such men possible.

The Republic ceased to be a country practicing genuine social democracy, and restrictive legislation affecting the practice of non-Panamanian professionals, appeared on the statute books.

From 1900 to 1925 West Indians practicing medicine in Panama included Dr. Edward Stanley Mason, Dr. Peter McDonald Milliard, Dr. Felix Ethelbert Lowe, Dr. Gilbert Henry Thomas, Dr. David S. Ogilve, Dr. J. Barnes, Dr, James Fitzosbert Anderson, Dr. Alexander McIntyre Fyfe.  The last named still maintains offices in the city.

In Colon, medical practitioners included Dr. James Amos Paddyfoot, Dr. Nathan Constantine Roe, Dr. Norman Brewster, Dr. Louis S. Meikle, Dr. Seymore Williams, Dr. Henry Clarence Segree, Dr. H. Clarence Edwards (in photo), Dr. Joseph Hamlet, Dr. Anderson Chubb, and Dr. Hubert E. Edwards.  The last three are continuing to serve the Atlantic side community.

In dentistry there have been in Panama City Dr. John Watson Hearne, Dr. Chas. Allan Bailey, Dr. Gerald Mortimer Gittens, Dr. Herbert Williams, Dr. Guy Lord, Dr. A. G. Connell, Dr. S. O. G. Johnson, and Dr. Leo S. H. Pink. Those in Colon were Dr. William Crosby, Dr. Norman S. Evans and Dr. Ferd A. Sterling, the only surviving West Indian dentist on the Isthmus.


Only Babbington Simmons remains of the several West Indian pharmacists who practiced their profession in Panama City.  Joseph Brown, Joseph Patrick Grant, William George Nelson and several others practised in the City of Colon.”

We will continue to follow the role of the many other professionals in Panama’s cultural, economic and political history in upcoming posts.

6 responses to “The Professionals

  1. Maybe “our people” would produce leaders if they overcame the spirit of selfishness which has, in the past, hampered our way all the way.



  2. Sorry that was a test.
    Where are our professionals these days, not that i’am.
    Other than those of you that have written.
    Who serves and leads our people?


  3. Mr. Garvey,

    Thank you for shedding more light on the Barton Academy; another one of the excellent “English Schools” in Panama.

    Indeed, the doctors and other health professionals were here in Panama to serve basically the Westindian population, and they maintained their practice within the cities, not in the Canal Zone. I am sure, however, that with the scarcity of healers and dentists, they were generally a valuable presence in the community.

    About the influence of Westindians on Panamanian horse racing, stay tuned as very soon we will be posting some interesting articles on that very subject.



  4. Yes Lydia,
    You are quite correct. Dr. J.T.Barton, Jamaican electrical engineer and graduate of Cambridge, operated the Panama Private Academy. In 1893 he also helped found the Parochial School in Christ Church, Colon.

    For the period your entry highlights West Indian businessmen and professionals found Panama a welcome and welcoming home for their underutilized talents.

    The reasons were several, but the presence of British shipping interests made their background and training a particular asset. In fact, wealthy Panamanians would send their children to study in Jamaica no doubt so they would return fluent in English.

    The Americans were also happy (at least initially) to employ their services until issues of race and nationality transmuted the practice of paying laborers in American silver rather than gold into a loose designation of race where black was referred to as “silver” and white became “gold”.

    It is more than likely many of the doctors you profile were closely involved with the Silver Men. For instance in 1911 a group of West Indian doctors sponsored a track and cycle meet held at Empire. West Indians also introduced Panamanians to horse-racing. One can imagine their consternation at finding their status mocked and belittled.

    To add a last ironic layer to the story, many of these better-off West Indians (like my grandfather who lived in Colon and worked as a railroad engineer) left for Cuba and Harlem New York, (like the writer Claude McKay). The big losers were the segregated canal-men who found themselves toiling in an increasingly hostile environment but with far fewer advocates.


  5. Mr. Garvey,

    Thank you for stopping by and for the added insight. Educated Westindians (not an intentional misspelling; simply the way W.I.’s have been addressed throughout Panamanian history) probably felt the greatest frustrations as their level of aspiration was the greatest and their expectations for their future as professionals were often truncated, often sending them abroad for better opportunities.

    We will be looking into the experience of the writers as we examine these highly gifted individuals of The Silver People.

    The Barton Academy, I assume, was operated privately?



  6. Dear Lydia,

    This is certainly the case as I discovered when I began to research Panama’s history beginning in the 1850’s with the construction of its railroad and ending with the canal’s completion in 1914. Denied opportunities at home (often ironically enough because of race) educated West Indians were overrepresented among Panama’s intellectual elite– The Barton Academy at Plaza Herrara being but one example of their contributions. To put a final touch on the irony local resentment for Panama’s black, English speaking West Indians would harden and grow rampant under the Americans after the Canal Zone devolved into racist Jim Crow segregation.


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