This Week in History


Janet Jagan elected president of Guyana

December 15, 1997
Guyana national flag
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Guyana national flag.

On December 15, 1997, Janet Jagan was elected President of Guyana, making her the first American-born woman to be elected president of any country. Although she had been involved in the country's governance for over half a century, she was only elected president after her husband's death. Jagan is considered by many in Guyana to be the mother of the nation. A documentary film, Thunder in Guyana, has been made about her life.

Jagan was born Janet Rosenberg in Chicago in 1920. In 1943, she married Cheddi Jagan, a Guyanese dental student. When Janet Jagan was 23, the couple moved to the then-colony of British Guiana, hoping to advance the country's progress toward independence. Together, in 1950, the couple founded the People's Progressive Party, the colony's first modern political party. In 1953, Guyana held its first universal election under colonial rule. Janet Jagan was elected minister and deputy speaker of parliament, the first woman to hold those positions. Although Cheddi Jagan was elected prime minister, his government was deposed after 133 days by the British who claimed that the Jagans and the party were seeking to turn Guyana into a communist state. Both Janet and Cheddi Jagan were at times jailed and placed under house arrest.

Cheddi Jagan was elected as prime minister in both 1957 and 1961, but intervention by the U.S. and Britain kept him out of office until free and fair elections were held in 1992. He was again elected to lead Guyana, and served as Guyana's president until his death in 1997. Following Cheddi Jagan's death, Janet was elected as President, a position she held until resigning due to ill health in August 1999. She died in 2009 at age 88.

See also: Jewesses with Attitude, Remembering Janet Jagan, President of Guyana.

Sources:;; Jewish Women's Archive, Re://collections, Spring 2004, pp. 4-5.

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Janet Jagan elected president of Guyana." (Viewed on April 19, 2014) <>.