This essay highlights some of the unexpected leadership roles that women have played in relation to the oil industry on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) from 1965 to the present. The people of St. Croix (Crucians) have a long and proud history of strong women as community and family leaders. Despite their invisibility in contemporary narratives of oil refining under U.S. colonialism on St. Croix, Crucian women have contested commonly held stereotypes of women’s roles and contributed to, as well as challenged, the refinery on their own terms. This article is part of a broader literature about women’s leadership across civil society, the private sector, and the public sector in the Caribbean and Latin America that focuses on women’s agency. This essay is also about the unequal situations that places like St. Croix face when negotiating with multinational corporations under colonial circumstances. While the oil industry generates income for the USVI, the refinery has environmental impacts injurious to the local population. Despite colonial, neocolonial, and patriarchal characteristics of their societies, women leaders on St. Croix, across the Caribbean, and Latin America have been a constant phenomenon, not just a recent occurrence. All the women in this essay demonstrate the centrality that women’s guidance, leadership, and actions play in the fostering, functioning, and protection of families, communities, and public and private institutions on St. Croix. The women in this essay created their own opportunities and took matters into their own hands, demonstrating alternative expressions of self and community values, as well as local action and agency, whether through personal relations, labor protests, stringent economic negotiations, occupying political office, and/or community-based activism.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.


Barnes, Natasha. 2006. Cultural Conundrums: Gender, Race, Nation, and the Making of Caribbean Cultural Politics. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Barriteau, Eudine. 2001. Stronger, Surer, Bolder: Ruth Nita Barrow—Social Change and International Development. Kingston: University Press of the West Indies.
-, ed. 2003. Confronting Power, Theorizing Gender: Interdisciplinary Perspectives in the Caribbean. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press.
Belle, La Vaughn, Tami Navarro, Hadiya Sewer, and Tiphanie Yanique. 2019. “Ancestral Queendom: Reflections on the Prison Records of the Rebel Queens of the 1878 Fireburn in St. Croix, USVI (formerly the Danish West Indies).” Nordisk Tidsskrift for Informations-videnskab Og Kulturformidling 8, no. 2: 19-36.
Bond, David. 2017. “Oil in the Caribbean: Refineries, Mangroves, and the Negative Ecologies of Crude Oil.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 59, no. 3: 600-28.
Boyer, William. 2010. America’s Virgin Islands: A History of Human Rights and Wrongs. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.
Candlin, Kit, and Cassandra Pybus. 2015. Enterprising Women: Gender, Race, and Power in the Revolutionary Atlantic. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
Christensen, Dr. Donna. 2019. Interview with author, August 27, Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Cleveland.com. 2012. “Major Oil Refinery to Close in the U.S. Virgin Islands,” January 18. Retrieved from https://www.cleveland.com/business/2012/01/major_oil_refinery_to_close_in.html, accessed March 13, 2021.
Combie, Valerie. 2013. The Hovensa Chronicles. Fort Oglethorpe, GA: Aspect Books.
Cosgrove, Serena. 2010. Leadership from the Margins: Women and Civil Society Leadership in Argentina, Chile, and El Salvador. Piscataway, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism, Inc. 2019. “Frandelle Gerard, Executive Director.” CHANT: Crucian Heritage and Nature Tourism. Retrieved from http://www.chantvi.org/boardmembers.cfm, accessed March 13, 2021.
de Chabert, Dr. Ralph Andrew. 2019. Interview with author, August 29, Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Eilperin, Juliet, Darryl Fears, and Salwan Georges. 2021. “The Island Where It Rained Oil.” Washington Post, March 24. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/interactive/2021/biden-environmental-justice-refinery-st-croix/?fbclid=IwAR0Ylam17EMJZb4_9rYPFqANpq2lBwiOuzkkz6Bkm-EPNKMi-45CcNzaiTU, accessed March 30, 2021.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2013. “Hazardous Waste Cleanup: HOVENSA, LLC in Christiansted, U.S. Virgin Islands.” Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/hwcorrectiveactionsites/hazardous-waste-cleanup-hovensa-llc-christiansted-us-virgin-islands, accessed March 13, 2021.
—–. 2021. “EPA Withdraws Plantwide Applicability Limit Permit for Limetree Bay Refinery in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Will Review Clean Air Act Requirements for the Facility,” March 25. Retrieved from https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-withdraws-plantwide-applicability-limit-permit-limetree-bay-refinery-us-virgin, accessed March 30, 2021.
George, Amaziah. 2019. “Government House: ‘8 Women Who Changed Virgin Islands History.‘” State of the Territory News, March 24. Retrieved from https://sottvi.news/8-women-who-changed-virgin-islands-history/, accessed March 13, 2021.
Gerard, Frandelle. 2019. Interview with author, August 26, Fredricksted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Goodridge, Richard A. 2003. “‘How our lives would be affected by the custom of having several wives’: The Intersection between African History and Gender Studies in the Caribbean.” In Barriteau, ed., Confronting Power, Theorizing Gender: Interdisciplinary Perspectives in the Caribbean, 126-41.
Highfield, Arnold R. 2014. Crucian Recollections: From the Compelling Past of a Storied Island. Christiansted, St. Croix: Antilles Press.
James, Deanna. 2019. Interview with author, August 29, Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Johnson, Matthew. 2019. “Black Gold of Paradise: Negotiating Oil Pollution in the US Virgin Islands, 1966-2012.” Environmental History 24, no. 4: 1-27.
Moolenaar, Ruth. 1992. Profiles of Outstanding Virgin Islanders. St. Thomas: Department of Education, Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Office of Policy Development and Research, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. 2017. “Comprehensive Housing Market Analysis: United States Virgin Islands.” Retrieved from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/publications/pdf/USVI-comp.pdf, accessed March 13, 2021.
Poblete, JoAnna. 2014. Islanders in the Empire: Filipino and Puerto Rican Laborers in Hawai’i. Champaign: University of Illinois Press.
Rigsarkivet. 2021. “Slavery: The Free Coloreds—Not So Free after All.” Retrieved from https://www.virgin-islands-history.org/en/history/slavery/the-free-coloreds-not-so-free-after-all/, accessed March 13, 2021.
Schuster, Janine. 2019. Interview with author, August 29, Christiansted, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Sparrow, Bartholomew. 2006. The Insular Cases and the Emergence of American Empire. Landmark Law Cases and American Society. Lawrence: Kansas University Press.
U.S. House of Representatives. 2019. “Christensen, Donna Marie.” U.S. House of Representatives: History, Art and Archives. Retrieved from https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/10930, accessed March 13, 2021.
U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Labor, Government of the United States Virgin Islands. 2013. “PY 2013 Employment Conditions in the United States Virgin Islands.” Retrieved from https://www.doleta.gov/performance/results/AnnualReports/PY2012/VI%20Economic%20Analysis.pdf, accessed March 30, 2021.
Willocks, Harold W.I. 1995. The Umbilical Cord: The History of the United States Virgin Islands from Pre-Columbian Era to the Present. St. Croix: By the Author.


1. For more information on the environmental impacts of oil refining in the U.S. Virgin Islands, see Bond (2017) and Johnson (2019).
2. I interviewed 23 women and 16 men. All interviews were conducted during my research visits to the islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas in September 2018 and August 2019. Thirty-three interviews were conducted in person at a location of the narrator’s choice. Most interviews lasted from one to two hours. The six interviews conducted over the telephone, for the convenience of the narrators, were shorter in length, about 10 to 15 minutes per conversation. I started each interview with general questions about the individual’s thoughts on the impact of the oil refinery on the region and their personal lives. Follow-up questions were asked based on those initial responses. People interviewed included community leaders, government workers, independent business people, educators, and general community members. My initial interviews focused on government employees and educators. At the end of every interview, I asked for recommendations for other people to interview, resulting in a snowball survey method. As my research topic evolved, my choice in people to interview focused more specifically on women involved with the oil industry or those with connected experiences.
3. Following the practice of respectful naming on St. Croix, when not quoting I provide a formal title with an individual’s last name.
4. According to the Danish National archives, during Danish colonial times, the term “free colored” referred to “people of African or African-European descent who were not enslaved but free. Formally, the free coloreds had the same rights as Europeans, but in practice they encountered many restrictions.” See Rigsarkivet (2021).
5. Also see Natasha Barnes’s (2006) discussion of Joséphine Tascher of Martinique in her introduction.
6. However, it is important to note that patriarchal ideas and power imbalances between women and men also existed in African cultures prior to the arrival of European colonizers.
7. See William Boyer (2010) and Harold Willocks (1995). While Arnold Highfield’s work (2014) discusses Miss Annie’s role, not much detail is provided about Miss Annie herself.
8. For more on U.S. colonials, see Poblete (2014).
9. For more on unincorporated territorial status, see Sparrow (2006).
10. See Sparrow (2006).
11. Three days after reopening on February 1, 2021, “a fine mist of oil and water from Limetree Bay Refining rained on the community of Clifton Hill, showering the slick mix onto cars, gardens, rooftops and cisterns filled with rainwater that residents use for daily tasks” (Eilperin, Fears, and Georges 2021). On March 25, 2021, the EPA withdrew the Clean Air Act “plantwide applicability limit” (PAL) federal permit. While the plant was still operational during the final edit of this essay, without a PAL, the refinery is now under closer scrutiny from this federal agency. See EPA (2021). For statistics on the economy, out-migration, and unemployment, see U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Labor (2013) and Office of Policy Development and Research (2021).