Mrs. Edna Watson, a Canadian physiotherapist, arrived in Bermuda in 1939 aboard a Cavalier flying boat from New York to Bermuda. Amongst her achievements of supporting the injured captain at sea for 14 hours, she was one of the first two women to be elected to the Colonial Assembly.
While in Parliament, Mrs. Watson served as Chairman of the Social Welfare Board, which made her acutely aware of the needs of children with disabilities. In 1952 she asked twelve friends to each ask one of their friends to join a committee to address the problem. She, her twelve friends, plus their twelve friends, formed what was known at that time, The Committee of 25 for Handicapped Children.
The Committee was subsequently incorporated by an Act of Parliament in July 1952, with the Founders being listed as Queenie Penboss, Doris Pedrolini, Yvonne Bowker, Rosemary Mitchell and Rea Wentworth.
In 1953 the Committee opened the Children’s Convalescent Hospital on Ireland Island, now known as Lefroy House, which filled the need of a home and nursing care for individuals with physical disabilities, but was forced to close 4 years later due to lack of funds. It also assisted local student nurses to obtain formal training abroad. The Friendship Vale School in Devonshire, was shortly established and sponsored by the Government, believed to have been spurred by the Committee.
The Sheltered Workshop which embraced the mental and physical challenges of children of school leaving age, was established and was housed in a wooden building that was purchased from the U.S. Navy at Kindley Field and moved to a piece of land on Serpentine Road that was purchased under the chairmanship of Commander Geoffrey Kitson. The need was so great it was not long before the building was filled to capacity and in 1969, the Department of Health and Welfare assumed control and operation.
During this time, mental disabilities affected an average of 3% of all births and these children were housed in one wing of St. Brendan’s hospital, now known as Mid Atlantic Wellness Institute (MAWI). In 1970 a special wing was built, named the Edna Watson Wing and was a priority of the Committee until, due to a reorganization of the Hospital Administration, absorbed the wing into a teaching hospital.
In 1975, the Bargain Box first opened in that same wooden building, with its function to collect good quality clothes and household items from members and friends, and sell them at very reasonable prices with the proceeds going to meet the expenses of the Committee’s activities. Since its inception, it was run by Mrs. Bea Stott, whose portrait is prominently displayed even to this day.
In 1981, the Committee, aided by sponsors of Dr. Sean O’Connell’s Swim Around Bermuda, built the swimming pool for individuals with disabilities at MAWI. The pool was purpose built and much used during its early life.
In 1985, the Bargain Box had outgrown the little wooden hut and was torn down to make room for a new building with an upper floor to provide rental income. 1991 saw a further addition to provide office space for the Committee and another rental unit. The modular structure was replaced in 2009 with a custom designed building with an additional second floor. Bargain Box utilizes the entire ground floor with tenants on the first and second floors. The office is also on the second floor.