Una Marson's cause of death explored as Google Doodle honours writer

Eve Edwards October 10, 2021
Photo by Fred Ramage/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Google Doodle is honouring the life of Jamaican writer Una Marson this Black History Month, introducing her work to many in the UK. A celebrated broadcaster, Marson was the first black woman to be employed by the BBC during the Second World War.

Who was Una Marson?

Una Maud Marson worked extensively as a poet and writer, although her literary contributions are less well known than her services to broadcasting.

She was born on 6 February 1905 in Santa Cruz, Jamaica. She was the youngest daughter of Rev Solomon Marson, a baptist minister, and Ada (nee Mullings).

Photo by Felix Man/Picture Post/Getty Images

At a young age Marson pursued a career in journalism. In 1928, aged about 23, Una Marson became Jamaica’s first female magazine publisher and editor. That year she established The Cosmopolitan, a publication that explored the issues of gender and social justice.

She ran The Cosmopolitan until 1931, while maintaining a strong literary output. Marson published two volumes of poems – Tropic Reveries in 1930 and Heights And Depths in 1931 – and also wrote and staged a play, At What Price. This was the first play to be written and staged in Jamaica by a woman.

Drawn to the literary culture of London, Marson moved to the Big Smoke in 1933. She described her desire to move to England as a “passionate longing for the land of Shakespeare, Milton, Tennyson, Keats, Shelley, Byron and Wordsworth”.

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Una Marson’s broadcasting career in the UK explored

In 1938, Una Marson returned to England having gone back to live in Jamaica two years before. In 1938, Marson took a position at the BBC, where she worked with George Orwell and read her poetry alongside TS Eliot. She also produced popular weekly programme Calling The West Indies.

Calling The West Indies was first broadcast in 1943 and featured poems and short stories by Caribbean authors such as Samuel Selvon.

Marson returned once more to Jamaica in 1949 after the Second World War. She spent most of the last decade of her life, however, living in the US, in Washington DC.

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Una Marson’s cause of death explored

In March 1965, Una Marson was on assignment in Haifa, Israel, when she fell ill. It was then she decided to return to Jamaica after years travelling the world for her work.

On her return, Marson was admitted to St Josephs Hospital, Kingston. She passed away there on 5 May 1965 at the age of 60. Una Marson was buried five days later at the Half-Way-Tree Parish Cemetery.

Her ill health was well documented, although the exact cause of death wasn’t reported in the papers at the time. Some researchers have alleged Una Marson passed away as the result of a heart attack after a complicated, lengthy battle with mental health. Her death was not explained in Google Doodle’s tribute.

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Eve spends her days writing about everything culture-related. From celebrity news to music, film and television, Eve covers all bases. When she’s not writing you can find her making music or mastering the art of homemade pasta.