Amy Ashwood Garvey was born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, but spent most of her childhood in Panama where her father supported the family as a businessman. She returned to Jamaica as a teen and attended Westwood High School in Trelawney, where she met her future husband, Marcus Garvey, in 1914.
Ashwood and Garvey both held strong beliefs in African American activism and were involved in political activities and soon they began to collaborate on ideas and strategies for the liberation of Jamaica, then a British colony. In 1916 they became secretly engaged. Ashwood’s parents did not approve and arranged for her to return to Panama that year. Garvey headed for the United States in the spring of that year.
However, Garvey and Ashwood were reunited in September of 1918 in New York City, New York. This marked the beginning of Ashwood’s important role in the development of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) branches. She became Garvey’s chief aide and the general secretary of the UNIA in 1919.
On Christmas Day 1919, the long engagement between Garvey and Ashwood culminated in an enormous wedding celebration with several thousand friends and associates at Liberty Hall, the UNIA building in New York City. After the marriage Ashwood took on more prominent roles in the UNIA. She became director of the Black Star Line Shipping Co. and established a ladies auxiliary of the UNIA. She also helped plan an industrial school and helped establish the UNIA’s newspaper The Negro World.
In October 1919 at the UNIA offices in Harlem, Ashwood risked her life to shield Garvey from the bullets of attempted killer George Tyler. Despite her heroism, the marriage began to deteriorate after that incident. They divorced in 1922.
After their divorce Ashwood left the UNIA but she continued to work with many prominent West Africans calling for African independence. She was one of the founders of the Nigerian Progress Union and she helped establish the International African Service Bureau (IASB). By 1935 Ashwood moved to London and established the Florence Mills Nightclub, a popular meeting place for the city’s black intellectuals. Ten years later in 1945, Ashwood helped organize the 5th Pan-African Congress which met in Manchester, England. Ashwood lived in West Africa for three years between 1946 and 1949. However, she returned to her native Jamaica where she died in 1969. Throughout her life Amy Ashwood Garvey campaigned for the liberation of the entire continent and in particular for the rights of African women.