She was born Simone Ovide in about 1913 near the Haitian town of Léogâne, the daughter of a mulatto merchant and writer, Jules Faine, and Célie Ovide, one of the maids in his household. At an early age her mother gave her up, and she spent much of her childhood in an orphanage in Pétion-Ville, an exclusive suburb in the hills above Port-au-Prince. The orphans were encouraged to acquire vocational skills and Simone Ovide was trained as a nurse’s aide. While working as a nurse she met a young doctor named François Duvalier. The couple was married on December 27, 1939, and had four children: Marie Denise, Nicole, Simone “Queen”, and Jean-Claude, their only son.
After their marriage, François Duvalier became minister of public health and labor in 1949 and won election to the presidency in 1957. Throughout his 14 years in office, his wife guarded access to her husband and developed and promoted her own palace favorites.
Because of her acquired status and her imperious bearing, Haitians referred to her as “Mama Doc”. She was, like her husband, reported to be a Vodou expert. She cultivated the image of a benefactor; dispensing charity to inhabitants of “Cite Simone”, a planned settlement named for her that is known today as Cité Soleil, one of the most miserable slums in Latin America.
Simone Duvalier’s influence reached its peak after the death of her husband in 1971, when her nineteen-year-old son Jean-Claude Duvalier succeeded his father as Haiti’s “President for Life”. Simone Duvalier retained the title of First Öady, and relished the power it conferred. According to a number of her associates, she deeply resented having to relinquish that role after Jean-Claude Duvalier married in 1980 and she was demoted to “Guardian of the Duvalierist Revolution”.
Exile and death
When her son was ousted from power in February 1986, Simone Duvalier joined him and his wife, Michèle Bennett, in exile in France. She was rarely seen in public. After her son’s bitter divorce from his wife, Simone Duvalier lived with her son in relative poverty in the suburbs of Paris.
She died in 1997.