Violet States

On the second floor of a CLSC building in the East End of Montreal resides a frail woman who is an example of service to humanity not only in the Bahá’í Community but also in the Montreal society at large. She is Violet States (née Grant). She is 92 years old.

Her parents moved to Montreal from Jamaica in the second decade of the 20th century in order to have a better life. There were only two types of jobs available in those days for the immigrants from West Indies: Railway work for men and domestic jobs for women and that is how Violet’s family started their life in Montreal. Violet was born in Verdun in a similar hard working family. Conscious of the importance of education, they were determined to give their children the best available education and that is how Violet attended music classes at the age of eight as well as her regular schooling. Her original dream was to become a music teacher at Macdonald College but while accepted into the program, the Dean told her that there would be little likelihood of parents allowing her to teach their children, because of her colour! Denied permission to continue her studies there, she soon won a scholarship to the Conservatoire de musique et d’art dramatique de la province de Québec and began building a clientele of young piano students, most of whom were white! In 1940 she attended the first performance of the Montreal Women’s Symphony and decided to become its member. She was told that the orchestra needed a wind instrument so Violet switched her major from piano to clarinet at the Conservatoire! She was auditioned and won a position in the 80 member all women orchestra. She remained a member of the orchestra until 1965. She was the only black woman who played at Carnegie Hall, N.Y. with this symphony. She managed to complete her musical studies at McGill while giving private lessons for over 28 years. She was assigned with a thousand music students per week in various schools, colleges and kindergartens. She served as Organist and Choir Director at Union United Church for 15 years.
It was during her teen years that Violet learned about the Bahá’í Faith at Sunday school in her church. Violet’s mother already knew about the Faith through her long friendship with Dora Thompson who came to Montreal before and was working as a domestic at the Maxwell home. She remained with the family until Sutherland Maxwell passed away. She had two daughters and one son, Eddie who grew up in Maxwell home and was a childhood friend of Mary Maxwell (Maxwell’s only child, known later as Ruhiyyih Khánum). Eddie became a Bahá’í some years later after Abdu’l-Bahá left Montreal in 1912. Rev. Este, the pastor of the Church where Violet attended and played organ was a close friend of Mrs. Maxwell. He attended several World Faith conferences while accompanying May Maxwell. Violet was enrolled in the Faith on 8 January 1961 in Verdun and served as a member of the Verdun Spiritual Assembly since that time, serving for many years as it’s secretary. She is the third believer in her race in Montreal, the second being Dr. Phil Edwards (1907-1971) after Eddie Eliot (1902-1953).
Violet has also taught music in Maine, Alaska, and Jamaica. For her lifetime involvement as a community activist, Violet was named ‘Grande Verdunoise’ and Honorary Citizen of Verdun. She was equally involved in projects such of honouring early Black railroad workers and the official recognition of a slave cemetery in St-Armand, Quebec. She also set up banking funds with Caisse Populaire Desjardins for all the students of the Verdun Elementary School, which she has helped to manage for over 20 years, effectively teaching children to care for their money.


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