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A tribute to Penang’s SGGS


EVEN before the Spice Girls sang about “girl power”, the girls of St George’s Girls’ School (SGGS) were already paving the way for women to shatter the glass ceiling.

Oon Beng Hong (nee Lim), the country’s first female lawyer, studied at the school just before World War I, and was the first Straits Chinese woman to have been called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in London in 1926.

Her story was just one among the many SGGS ladies who made his-tory with their glowing achievements.

In conjunction with the school’s 125th anniversary, historian and pu-blisher Khoo Salma Nasution toge-ther with Alison Hayes and Sehra Yeap Zimbulis, wrote ‘Giving Our Best: The Story of St George’s Girls’ School, Penang, 1885-2010’.

Khoo, who is also Penang Heritage Trust president, said the 231-page coffee table book was the most comprehensive publication on the school and her illustrious daughters to date.

SGGS was established in 1885 by Reverand L.C. Biggs and his wife Katherine on Farquhar Street.

After several re-locations on the island, the school found permanence on Macalister Road when the foundation stone was laid on July 17, 1953.

“Oon, who was Penang’s first wo-man federal legislative councillor, fought for funds to construct the building, which was the most well-equipped school at the time.

“Arguing that enrolment had doubled since the war and there was serious overcrowding, she said loyalty to the country was dependant on education and her arguments won the day,” Khoo, an ex-SGGS girl herself, said.

“This book has more than 70 short biographies of the SGGS women who have excelled in everything from medicine, science, law and education to fashion, theatre, music and sports.

Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Sharizat Abdul Jalil, United Nations (UN) Assistant Secretary-General (Peacebuilding Support) Judy Cheng-Hopkins (currently the highest- ranking Malaysian in the UN), international music conductor Datuk Ooi Chean See, New York-based fashion designer and recipient of the 2004 Smithsonian’s Cooper Hewitt Na-tional Design Award Yeohlee Teng, Penang Girl Guides Association pre-sident and co-founder of the Wo-men’s Centre for Change (WCC) Puan Seri Datuk Su Hashim, singer and broadcaster Rubiah Lubis and 1982 National Sportswoman of the Year athlete and SEA Games medallist Zaiton Othman were among the ex-Georgians featured in the book.

“SGGS used to stage their own theatre dramas where students would make the costumes and props themselves.

“I believe this intense theatre training in the 1950s had resulted in people like world authority on Japa-nese Noh drama Dr Poh Sim Plow-right, actress, director and producer Datuk Faridah Merican and Hong Kong-based renowned drama educator Dr Vicki Cheng Har Ooi, walking through its doors,” she noted.

The book retails at RM100 with 10% of the proceeds going towards the SGGS building fund. For details, log on to www.arecabooks.com.

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