Our Journey, Our History
We list the milestones in the path of women in Singapore – the changes in policies and laws as well as the initiatives and achievements of individual women.
Navigate the timeline below or view it in full.
AT THE START, MORE MEN THAN WOMEN
Singapore’s population is recorded as being just under 10,700, of whom about 3,000 are women.
FIRST SCHOOL FOR GIRLS OPENS
The first girls’ school in Singapore and East Asia is started in a North Bridge Road shophouse.
Founded by Maria Tarn Dyer, it is initially known as the Chinese Girls’ School. After the Second World War, the name changes to St Margaret’s School.
RAFFLES INSTITUTION ADMITS GIRLS
The all-male Raffles Institution starts a section for girls with five day-students and six boarders.
HAJJAH FATIMAH’S LEGACY
Construction of Hajjah Fatimah Mosque is completed. It is named after Hajjah Fatimah binte Sulaiman who provided the land and funds for the mosque and some homes around it for the poor.
SECOND SCHOOL FOR GIRLS
The Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus opens in Victoria Street. Reverend Mother St Mathilde Raclot, founder of the school, soon also starts an orphanage and a home for abandoned babies.
YOUNG WOMEN’S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION FOUNDED
British missionary and one of the founding leaders of Chinese Girls’ School (now known as St. Margaret’s School), Sophia Cooke founds the YWCA, which is the sister organization of the YMCA.
GIRLS GET A THIRD SCHOOL
Raffles Institution finds that the demand for girls to be schooled keeps growing. In 1879 Raffles Girls’ School is set up as a separate institution.
FOURTH GIRLS’ SCHOOL
ANOTHER SCHOOL FOR GIRLS OPENS
Singapore Chinese Girls’ School opens on Hill Street, with seven Straits Chinese girls. It is funded by a small group of English-educated Straits Chinese men who believe girls should be educated.
CLINIC FOR THE DISADVANTAGED
GIRLS JUST WANT TO BE EDUCATED
Nanyang Girls’ High School is set up by a group of businessmen and intellectuals who belong to the United League of China and who are inspired by Sun Yat-Sen’s view that women should be educated in order to play a more active role in serving their country.
FIRST SINGAPOREAN WOMAN DOCTOR
HOSPITAL FOR WOMEN & CHILDREN OPENS
The hospital becomes one of the first institutions in Singapore to offer nursing courses.
FIRST MOVE TO PROTECT MUI TSAIS
Facing pressure from the British public to address the problem of mui tsais (young bondmaids) in colonial Malaya, the Colonial Office in London enacted the Female Domestic Servants Law in Malaya. This sought to protect the moral and material interests of the ‘mui tsais’.
MAGGIE ACES SENIOR CAMBRIDGE
Sixteen-year old Maggie Tan, later known as Maggie Lim, becomes the first girl to be admitted to the all-male Raffles Institution after earning a record six distinctions in the Senior Cambridge examinations.
FIRST WOMAN BARRISTER SWORN IN
Teo Soon Kim is sworn in to the Singapore bar and becomes Singapore’s first woman barrister.
BAN ON BROTHELS
The Women and Girls Protection Ordinance is passed by the Legislative Council of the Straits Settlements. It outlaws brothels and related activities. There are an estimated 700 brothels in Singapore at this time.
MAGGIE BEATS THE BOYS TO AWARD
Maggie Tan wins the Queen’s Scholarship, the first woman and the second Singaporean in the programme’s 45-year history to receive the prestigious award for tertiary study in Britain.
CLUB FOR INDIAN LADIES OPENS
WOMEN ARE NOT CHATTEL
FIRST PEDIATRIC WARD OPENS
CHILD SLAVERY COMES TO AN END
The Mui Tsai Ordinance comes into force on January 1. The entry of new mui tsais to Malaya is banned and all existing mui tsais must be registered. Among those who are registered is Janet Lim, who would later write a best-selling book about her experiences as a mui tsai.
WAR HEROINE IN THE MAKING
PROTECTION FOR WOMEN & GIRLS
PARTIAL SUFFRAGE FOR SINGAPORE
CARE FOR MUSLIM WOMEN’S WELFARE
FAMILY PLANNING GETS STARTED
PHYLLIS ELECTED TO PUBLIC OFFICE
FIRST WOMEN JOIN THE POLICE
Mary Quintal is one of the first 10 women to join the Singapore Police. They are also the first women in the civil service to be on the same pay scales as their male colleagues.
TWO WOMEN IN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
Two women become members of the Legislative Council, the highest decision- making body in Singapore at that time. Elizabeth Choy is nominated to the Council by the Governor after her unsuccessful attempts to obtain an elected seat. The other is Vilasini Menon, a popular candidate who stood as an independent and successfully contested for a seat in the council.
SINGAPORE COUNCIL OF WOMEN IS FORMED
SINGAPORE’S FIRST FEMALE OLYMPIAN
Singapore sends its first female athlete, Tang Pui Wah, to the Olympics in Helsinki in July. She takes part in the 100m sprint and the 80m hurdles events.
SCW CALLS FOR NEW LAWS
Singapore Council of Women (SCW) writes to the Governor of Singapore, urging him to introduce legislation to prevent lax marriage laws and enforce a situation where “any woman in this country may in future enjoy the same marital privileges and rights as are enjoyed by women in other British denominations”.
CALL FOR MONOGAMY
FIRST LOCAL HOSPITAL MATRON
FIRST FEMALE TEACHER AT NAFA
DAISY IS 1ST LOCAL SENIOR ALMONER
Daisy Vaithilingam is appointed Senior Almoner, now known as Chief of Medical Social Workers, making her the first local in the role. She is in charge of medical social workers in all hospitals in Singapore.
PAP FORMS WOMEN’S LEAGUE
The PAP Women’s League is formed with Chan Choy Siong at the helm. To mark International Women’s Day in March, the League organises four rallies across the island. The rallies attract more than 2,000 people in total.
SYARIAH COURT STARTS ITS WORK
SOLD FOR SILVER IS A BEST SELLER
Janet Lim’s Sold for Silver is published. It is the first autobiography in English by a Singaporean woman and becomes a best-seller.
FIVE WOMEN WIN ASSEMBLY SEATS
Singapore holds its second Legislative Assembly general election in May. It is a significant election because there is, finally, under the new Constitution of Singapore, true universal suffrage. All women who are Singapore citizens can vote. Five women are elected to the Legislative Assembly – Che Sahora binte Ahmat, Ho Puay Choo, Fung Yin Ching, Chan Choy Siong, and Seow Peck Leng.
SYARIAH COURT GETS 1ST COUNSELLOR
Khatijun Nissa Siraj becomes the first female social worker in the Syariah Court.
She handles hundreds of cases in the first year, advising Muslim women of their rights under the new divorce laws.
HEDWIG HEADS NATIONAL LIBRARY
Hedwig Anuar becomes the first Singaporean director of the National Library of Singapore. She remains in the position until her retirement in 1988.
WOMEN’S CHARTER COMES INTO FORCE
1ST ASIAN AT AUSTRALIAN BALLET
TOO MANY: A BABY EVERY 11 MINUTES
THE GOLDEN GIRL GETS GOING
In December, at the 3rd Southeast Asian Peninsula Games held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 11 year old ‘Golden Girl’ Patricia Chan Li-Yin kicks off her 10-year dominance of the regional swimming arena by winning gold in all her 8 events.
FREE CARE FOR DESTITUTE ELDERLY
Former nurse and selfless social worker Teresa Hsu Chih, together with her sister, opens the Home for the Aged Sick to provide free nursing care for the elderly and destitute.
FIRST FEMALE DISTRICT JUDGE
Jenny Lau Bong Bee is appointed Singapore’s first female district judge.
TECH OR HOME ED: GIRLS CAN CHOOSE
HELPING HAND FOR AGED SICK
Venerable Ho Yuen Hoe establishes the Man Fut Tong Nursing Home to take care of the aged sick and immigrants from China who have no relatives to turn to.
TURNING WELFARE INTO INDEPENDENCE
ANOTHER WAY TO CURB POPULATION
ABORTIONS ARE NOW LEGAL
GIRLS JUST WANT TO BE EDUCATED
CAREER ADVANCEMENT FOR WOMEN
The Singapore Business & Professional Women’s Association is formed to help working women in Singapore advance their careers and professions.
PLEASE STOP AT TWO
The controversial ‘Stop at Two’ campaign is launched to discourage large families because of the financial strain that having children imposes on individuals.
A GLOBAL FASHION BUSINESS IS BORN
Christina Ong opens Club 21, a multi-brand boutique store in Singapore. Over the years it expands into a global fashion business.
1ST WOMAN DEAN OF SCIENCE
Botanist Gloria Lim is appointed the first female Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of Singapore.
PAT LEAVES A TRAIL OF PURE GOLD
RUTH WONG GETS THE IE GOING
In April, Ruth Wong Hie King becomes the founding director of the Institute of Education.
SAWL AIMS TO SIMPLIFY THE LAW
The Singapore Association of Women Lawyers (SAWL) is formed. One aim is to simplify the law for the lay person.
SWEE LEE IS A RUNAWAY SUCCESS
Sprinter Chee Swee Lee becomes, at the 7th Asian Games in Tehran in September, the first Singaporean woman to win an Asian Games gold medal in the track and field events.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE BABIES GONE
Singapore’s total fertility rate, which has been steadily declining, falls below the replacement level of 2.1. In 1970 it was 3.07.
1ST WOMAN VP AT BANK OF AMERICA
Theresa Foo is the first woman to be appointed a vice-president of Bank of America.
ONE-STOP CENTRE FOR FAMILIES
BIG THINGS FOR LITTLE IRONIES
YOUNG JUNIE GETS TWO GOLDS
At the Asian Games in Bangkok, Junie Sng Poh Leng is the first female Singaporean swimmer and the youngest swimmer in Asiad’s history to win two gold medals at the same Games.
SAF’S FIRST EVER WOMAN C.O.
Agnes Fong Sock Har becomes the first female commanding officer in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).
BAMBOO GREEN IS BORN
SCHOOL FOR SPECIAL NEEDS KIDS
At the Asian Women’s Welfare Association, Leaena Tambyah starts a playgroup for children with multiple disabilities, which in time will become the AWWA School.
AN UMBRELLA FOR WOMEN’S GROUPS
MOVE TO PROMOTE CANTONESE OPERA
FIRST WOMAN PARTNER
Fang Ai Lian is appointed a partner of Ernst & Young (Singapore). This is the first time a woman achieves partnership status in a professional services firm in Singapore.
GET MARRIED, GRADUATE WOMEN!
WOMEN RETURN TO THE HOUSE
GOVT GETS INTO MATCH-MAKING
STELLA’S EMILY BECOMES A STAR
AWARE TO SEEK GENDER EQUALITY
CALL FOR SEX DISCRIMINATION LAW
Sociologist and parliamentarian Aline Wong calls for laws against sex discrimination.
FIRST WORLD BOWLING CHAMPION
Adelene Wee becomes Singapore’s first Singaporean World Bowling Champion when she wins the Ladies’ Masters Title at the World Games in London.
FIRST WOMAN PHARMACY PROFESSOR
Lucy Wan is Singapore’s first local pharmacy graduate to be appointed Professor of Pharmacy at the National University of Singapore.
PLEASE HAVE AT LEAST THREE
FIRST WOMAN CHEMISTRY PROFESSOR
TZU PHENG WINS WRITERS AWARD
PAP STARTS WOMEN’S WING
HOSPICE CARE STARTS IN SINGAPORE
KK HOSPITAL IS FAMILY FRIENDLY
Jennifer Lee Gek Choo is appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kandang Kerbau (KK) Women’s and Children’s Hospital. She puts in place a family-friendly work environment and the hospital earns the Family Friendly Firm Award for three consecutive years.
KANWALJIT IS 1ST WOMAN NMP
Orthopaedic surgeon Kanwaljit Soin becomes the first woman Nominated Member of Parliament.
SUCHEN WINS 1ST LITERATURE PRIZE
Suchen Christine Lim is the first recipient of the Singapore Literature Prize (Fiction) for her novel Fistful of Colours.
HONOUR FOR BEIJING OPERA STAR
Phan Wait Hong is awarded the Cultural Medallion for her contributions to the development of Beijing opera in Singapore. She was one of the first to teach Beijing Opera in Singapore.
INTRODUCTION OF THE SINGAPORE ARMED FORCES MERIT SCHOLARSHIP (WOMEN)
The SAF Merit Scholarship, which was previously solely for males, is introduced to women. Colonel Gan Siow Huang (Singapore’s first female general) and three other women are the first ever female recipients.
FIRST ASIAN WOMAN TO HEAD UNIFEM
Noeleen Heyzer is appointed Executive Director of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). She is the first Asian woman to fill this post.
SINGAPORE RATIFIES MOST OF CEDAW
NMP TABLES FAMILY VIOLENCE BILL
FIRST HOME FOR DEMENTIA PATIENTS
FIRST TWO WOMEN IN SINGAPORE CHINESE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND INDUSTRY
STEPS TO TACKLE FAMILY VIOLENCE
SINGAPORE’S 1ST WOMAN ENVOY TO US
Chan Heng Chee is appointed Singapore’s ambassador to the United States, making her Singapore’s first female ambassador to the country as well as the first female ambassador to the US from East Asia.
BETTER PROTECTION AGAINST DOMESTIC ABUSE
SOM STARTS MALAY DANCE COMPANY
FIRST EVER TOY PIANO ALBUM
Margaret Leng Tan releases the first ever toy piano album, The Art of the Toy Piano.
WOMEN DOCTORS UNITE
UN WOMEN SETS UP IN SINGAPORE
FIRST WOMAN PERMANENT SECRETARY
Lim Soo Hoon becomes Singapore’s first female permanent secretary at the then Ministry of Community Development.
GOVT SETS UP WOMEN’S DESK
WOMEN CAN SPONSOR FOREIGN SPOUSES
1ST WOMAN COMMANDING OFFICER
Lim Sok Bee becomes the first female commanding officer of an artillery battalion in Singapore.
BABY-MAKING PACKAGE UNVEILED
FIRST FEMALE COMMERCIAL PILOT
After qualifying as a pilot and serving in the Republic of Singapore Air Force for two decades, Anastasia Gan leaves the air force and becomes Singapore’s first female commercial pilot.
FIRST WOMAN MAYOR
Yu-Foo Yee Shoon is the first woman to be appointed as a Mayor in Singapore. She leads the South West Community Development Council.
OLIVIA LUM’S HYFLUX IS LISTED
Water treatment company Hyflux, founded by Olivia Lum, is listed on Singapore’s stock exchange in January.
SINGAPORE SAYS YES TO EQUAL PAY
HONOUR FOR WOMAN MATHEMATICIAN
Lam Lay Yong is the first Asian and first woman to be awarded the Kenneth O May Prize, the highest award in the field of history of mathematics.
MEDICAL STUDENT QUOTA LIFTED
FIRST FEMALE FIGHTER PILOT
Khoo Teh Lynn became Singapore’s first female fighter pilot.
RIGHT TO CITIZENSHIP EQUALISED
PLEASE HAVE MORE BABIES
TEMSAEK GETS A WOMAN AT THE HELM
Ho Ching is appointed Chief Executive Officer of Temasek Holdings, an investment company owned by the Singapore government.
WORLD’S 100 MOST POWERFUL WOMEN
URA ALSO GETS A WOMAN AT THE HELM
Cheong Koon Hean becomes the first woman to be appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
SINGAPORE SWIMMER AT PARALYMPICS
Theresa Goh Rui Si is the first Singaporean swimmer to take part in the Paralympics, at the Athens Games.
EQUAL MEDICAL BENEFITS
ANAMAH WINS CEDAW SEAT
Anamah Tan wins a seat on the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of the Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). She is the first Singaporean woman to be in the CEDAW Committee.
KRANJI FARMERS UNITE UNDER IVY
JOS GETS HER 40 SEA GAMES GOLDS
Swimmer Joscelin Yeo sets a new record by winning a total of 40 gold medals at the SEA Games. [Link to Joscelin Yeo, Sports]
SAF GETS ITS 1ST WOMAN COLONEL
SINGAPORE ARTIST EXHIBITS AT UN
In May, Chng Seok Tin, a visually impaired artist, becomes the first Singaporean to showcase her works at the UN Secretariat in New York.
HONOUR FOR ENVIRONMENT CHAMPION
FIRST FEMALE CEO OF JETSTAR
Chong Phit Lian becomes the first female and first Singaporean to become the CEO of Australian airline Jetstar
FIRST WOMAN TO HEAD ESCAP
WOMAN TAKES THE HELM AT SINGTEL
WINGS FOR THE OLDER WOMEN
MORE CARROTS TO INDUCE BABIES
MUSLIM MARRIAGE AGE RAISED
PAID SEX WITH UNDER 18s IS CRIME
WOMEN PADDLERS WIN SILVER MEDAL
LAURENTIA WINS TWO BRONZES
Rider Laurentia Tan wins Singapore’s first Paralympics medal. At the Beijing Paralympics in September, she wins two bronze medals. They are also Asia’s first equestrian medals at the Paralympics. At the London Paralympics in 2012, she wins silver and a bronze.
SINGAPORES 1ST GOLD AT PARALYMPICS
KUDOS FOR SINGAPORE RESEARCHER
Jackie Yi-Ru Ying is one of only eight women recognised in the list of “100 Engineers of the Modern Era” compiled by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers.
FINALLY, A WOMAN CABINET MINISTER
In April, Lim Hwee Hua becomes the first woman in Singapore to be appointed a Cabinet minister.
SINGAPORE WOMEN’S TEAM TOPS EVEREST
In May, the Singapore Women’s Everest team (Jane Lee, Sim Yi Hui, Esther Tan, Lee Peh Gee, Joanne Soo, Lee Li Hui) makes it to the summit of Mt Everest.
TASKFORCE TO TACKLE TRAFFICKING
SOPHIA SKIS TO SOUTH POLE
Sophia Pang becomes the first Singaporean woman to ski from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole.
JENNIE CHUA HEADS SICC
LONG-SERVING VOLUNTEERS HONOURED
Ann Elizabeth Wee and Indranee Elizabeth Nadisen are the recipients of the inaugural Outstanding Lifetime Volunteer Awards by the then Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports. Ann Elizabeth Wee is recognised for volunteering on the Juvenile Court’s advisory panel from 1969 to 2009 and Indranee Elizabeth Nadisen for her service as a foster mother to 43 children from 1976 to 2008.
BIRTH RATE HITS RECORD LOW
FIRST WOMAN HEAD FOR HDB
TWEAKS TO WOMEN’S CHARTER
HELP FOR DIVORCED WOMEN
HELP FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT VICTIMS
ARCHAIC LAW DELETED
VERY FEW WOMEN ON SINGAPORE BOARDS
WOMEN’S DESK GETS A NEW NAME
SINGAPORE ACCEPTS MORE OF CEDAW
MORE MEDALS FOR LAURENTIA
GRACE FU JOINS THE CABINET
Grace Fu is appointed Cabinet Minister, only the second woman in Singapore’s history to join the Cabinet.
SINGAPORE NOD FOR ASEAN HUMAN RIGHTS
RIGHTS OF DISABLED RECOGNISED
AT LAST, PATERNITY LEAVE
A $2 billion Marriage and Parenthood Package is announced. It includes the introduction of one week of paternity leave and one week of parental leave to be shared by husband and wife.
FIRST WOMAN SPEAKER OF PARLIAMENT
Halimah Yacob becomes Singapore’s first woman Speaker of Parliament.
FOREIGN MAIDS MUST HAVE REST DAY
FIRST WOMAN IN POLICE TOP RANKS
Zuraidah Abdullah is the first woman to be promoted to the rank of Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police.
FINALLY, AN ANTI-HARASSMENT LAW
AND AN ANTI-TRAFFICKING LAW TOO
CENTRE FOR SEXUAL ASSAULT VICTIMS
WOMEN ON BOARDS – LITTLE PROGRESS
FIRST FEMALE GENERAL
The Singapore Armed Forces gets its first female general when Gan Siow Huang is one of seven Colonels promoted to the rank of Brigadier-General/Rear-Admiral (1- star).
FIRST FEMALE CHANCELLOR
Dr Aline Wong is named Chancellor of UniSIM, making her Singapore’s first female university chancellor.