The Leigh Sherman Secretarial School, now Community College, was only a few years old when in 1981 the Daily Observer employed one of its recent graduates as secretary to the Liberian Observer Corporation. Frances Crusoe, wife of McArdle Crusoe, Kenneth Y. Best’s Booker Washington Institute classmate, made her own history when she became one of the first secretarial staff whom Head of State Samuel K. Doe sent to prison, June 29, 1981.
What did Frances, a humble secretary doing the work she was trained to do, know about the politics of military dictatorship? Yet, she was one of four female Observer staff that joined seven other male employees to be imprisoned in 1981. Doe had ordered the paper closed down, the first of five closures, because it had published three letters from students of the then Monrovia Central High protesting the banning of their leader, Conmany Wesseh, president of the
Liberia National Students Union (LINSU). The Observer women, Mae Gene Best, wife of the Observer publisher, Cynthia Greaves, the newspaper’s first female reporter, Frances Crusoe and Bindu Fahnbulleh, an advertising lady, were shipped off to the stinkest cell in town, the CID cell in Mamba Point. But the CID Commander graciously refused to put them in the cell. He allowed them to spend the days and nights sitting on benches on the CID veranda.
Neighborhood women, including Mrs. Richard Butler and members of the Neal family sought the Commander’s permission to take the women home for baths, changing clothes and breakfast each morning before returning them to the CID porch, where they were detained for four days.
The men, on the other hand, were imprisoned at the maximum security prison, the Post Stockade at the Barclay Training Center, where they ate dry rice everyday in the cover of a trashcan. They were Chief Photographer Sando Moore,
New Editor Mike James, Sub Editor Isaac Thompson, Type Setters Sam Van Kesselly and Bartea Seneh, Junior Photographer Arthur James (his first day on the job), and Publisher K.Y. Best. They remained in jail for 10 days, when Vice
Head of State Thomas Weh Syen summoned them to the Capital one Saturday afternoon and told them, “Go and sin no more.”
The newspaper reappeared the following Monday with the headline, “With Renewed Zeal to Serve the People, WE’RE BACK.”
A few years later the Daily Observer hired its second trained secretary from Leigh Sherman. She was Rose Martin, later King. She had come as an intern, whom we later employed full time. Rose, who received extensive training in
English and grammar from her bosses at the Observer, continued with the newspaper until it closed its doors during the war. She found her way to Abidjan, La Côte d’Ivoire, where she was immediately employed by the United Nations. After a decade and a half she is still with the UN, now a senior administrative official, having served in Kosovo, later Central African Republic and elsewhere.
The forgoing is but a small part of the legacy of Theresa Leigh Sherman. But as Vice President Boakai said last week, she has produced hundreds, if not thousands of well trained secretaries, accountants and executive officers. Theresa, like all good entrepreneurs, had a vision: to move from rented premises to her own campus, which she built in Paynesville, from where many of her students have had to hustle for transport each morning to travel to the old campus in Fiama, Sinkor.
This enterprising Liberian woman has also made her mark in humanitarian work. She is past president of the Liberian National Red Cross Society (LNRCS), during which tenure she was honored by the King and Queen of Spain.
All of this is why the Daily Observer today honors Theresa Leigh Sherman as a woman of destiny. We urge all students who pass through her outstanding private institution to take full advantage of the sacrifices made to assure them a solid secretarial, administrative and business education. Many of your fellow alumni have gone on to bigger things; so can each of you.
We call on other Liberian women to emulate the great example of Theresa Leigh Sherman by forging ahead and becoming themselves entrepreneurs, leading the way to assure Liberians a greater stake in the country’s educational—and business environments.