Nanyang Girls' High School

Singapore Infopedia


Nanyang Girls' High School was founded in 1917 by the Singapore branch of the Chinese United League (Tong Menghui; 中国同盟会) in an effort to promote Chinese education among local Chinese women.1 The school was originally known as the Singapore Nanyang Girls’ School and offered primary education. It was officially renamed Nanyang Girls’ High School in 1931 when it began to offer secondary education.2 Initially located at Dhoby Ghaut, the school moved three times – first to Handy Road, then to King’s Road and finally to its current location on Linden Drive.3

During a visit to Singapore in 1910, Chinese revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen met with members of the Singapore branch of the Chinese United League.4 At the meeting, Sun noted that there were no Singapore women participating in the ongoing revolutionary movement in China. He was of the view that education would encourage women to shed their political apathy and become active participants in political matters, and urged the revolutionary group to promote female education.5

The Chinese United League then began plans to set up a girls’ school in Singapore. The members involved were primarily businessmen, merchants and intellectuals such as Chuang Hee Tsuan, Zhuang Xiquan, Teo Eng Hock and Tan Chor Lam.6

The Singapore Nanyang Girls’ School was established in 1917 in a row of shophouses at Dhoby Ghaut. Its first principal was Mdm Yu Pei Gao, with Tan Chor Lam appointed as the first chairman of the board of directors.7 Lessons officially began on 15 August 1917 to a cohort of about 100 students.8

The school offered primary education as well as a two-year teacher training course, which was equivalent to lower-secondary standard. The school’s curriculum included subjects such as self-cultivation, Chinese, arithmetic, national education and sewing. In the first year of its establishment, the school also opened a branch at 330 Beach Road.9

In 1919, the school merged with the branch school, and moved to a double-storey bungalow located on Handy Road, near Sophia Hill (known today as Mount Sophia) in order to accommodate its rising enrolment.10

Administrative difficulties in the 1920s
The 1920 Registration of Schools Ordinance – enacted by the colonial government to curb the increasing politicisation of Chinese education – gave the government the right to shut down schools and deport unregistered teachers. Under the legislation, schools were also required to register as legal organisations.11 Mdm Yu resigned as principal in 1921 due to her objections to the ordinance, as she believed that educational institutions were non-profit organisations and should not be subjected to these restrictions. In the same year, the school was closed for three months due to financial difficulties.12

Mdm Yu’s departure resulted in a leadership crisis and much administrative difficulty – the school had seven principals in the span of six years, from 1921 to 1927.13 The administrative issues were resolved with the appointment of Mdm Liew Yuen Sien as principal in 1927.14 Mdm Liew was a dedicated principal who actively promoted the school and reinforced the use of Mandarin among the students.15 The school flourished under her leadership, and had to rent the former hostel of Zhang Fu Lai English School in 1928 to cope with the increased intake.16

New campus and new classes
In May 1930, philanthropist and “Tiger Balm King” Aw Boon Haw donated $5,000 to the school, encouraging it to buy a plot of land for a new campus.17 The school subsequently raised $17,000 through various fundraising efforts, and purchased a six-acre (24,280 sq m) piece of land and a building on King’s Road in Bukit Timah.18

The school officially moved into the new campus in February 1931. It began to offer secondary education in the same year, consisting of three years of junior middle school and three years of senior middle school.19 The school was officially renamed Nanyang Girls’ High School with the move to the new campus.20

Nanyang Girls’ High School celebrated its 14th anniversary in August 1931. There were about 400 students enrolled at the time.21

Kindergarten classes were introduced in 1939. Students were mostly the children of the schoolteachers.22 The year 1939 also marked the official introduction of a pre-tertiary section, and the separation of the school’s primary and secondary sections.23

World War II and postwar years
The school ceased lessons in late 1941following the outbreak of World War II. During the war, the school was first used by British soldiers, and then by the Japanese as a military hospital.24

On 5 December 1945, after the war, Nanyang Girls’ High School reopened on Selegie Road, temporarily occupying the former premises of the Japanese Club.25 The secondary and upper primary sections of the school moved back to King’s Road in July 1946, and were joined by the remaining primary and kindergarten sections in January the following year.26 The school’s enrolment increased sharply during the postwar period to around 1,400 students.27

In 1950, after the discovery of communist literature and pamphlets in the school, then Assistant Director of Education (Chinese) R. W. Watson-Hyatt28 served the school with a notice, asking the management to explain why the school should not be declared unlawful.29 After an appeal to the then governor of Singapore, Franklin Gimson,30 and negotiations with the colonial government’s Education Department, the school was allowed to resume operations on a conditional basis.31 The government required the school to comply with the requirements of the Education Department on the conduct and management of the school.32 The Education Department disallowed specific students and teachers from returning to the school, disallowed the school from appointing or removing a principal without its approval, and required the school to seek its approval before offering employment to any teacher.33 Students also had to sign new enrolment forms guaranteeing their good conduct before the school officially reopened.34 

In 1957, Nanyang Girls’ High School became a government-aided school, and was entitled to government subsidies.35

In May 1958, Nanyang Kindergarten moved to a different location at 118 King’s Road. The kindergarten became an independent entity and was administered separately from the main school.36

Further developments
The construction of a primary-school building began in 1974. In January 1978, the primary-school section was separated from the main school to become Nanyang Primary School. In the same year, the school stopped offering pre-university education.37 From then on, Nanyang Girls’ High School became solely a secondary school.38

In 1979, Nanyang Girls’ High School was one of nine schools conferred the status of a Special Assistance Plan school, and began offering English and Chinese as first languages so that students could excel in both languages.39 The school was selected due to its focus on bilingualism, academic excellence, good facilities and established reputation.40

In 1981, Nanyang Girls’ High School became a full-day school, as part of a pilot scheme by the Ministry of Education. The school functioned from 7.30 am to 3.20 pm during this period.41 The pilot programme came to a close after 1983, as the ministry found that the full-day school scheme did not have any notable advantages over the half-day school system.42 Nanyang Girls’ High School reverted to a single-session half-day scheme in 1984, and offered the Art Elective Programme in the same year.43

Independent status and move to Linden Drive
On 1 January 1993, Nanyang Girls’ High School officially became an independent school.44 Several scholarships were introduced to ensure that students from low-income families could continue with their education after the increase in school fees.45

In 1999, the school became a Gifted Education Programme Centre, and also moved to a new campus at the former site of the National Junior College on Linden Drive. The school consisted of nine separate blocks, and could accommodate 1,600 students.46 A boarding school for females was also constructed opposite the school.47 A farewell ceremony at the old school premises on King’s Road was held on 29 May 1999, followed by a mass walk to the new campus on 6 June.48

Integrated programme
In 2004, the school launched the Integrated Programme in partnership with The Chinese High School.49 The programme – which allowed students to skip the GCE ‘O’ Level examination – was initially offered to 168 secondary-three students, and was extended to secondary-one students in 2005.50 The Chinese Language Elective Programme and the Bicultural Studies Programme (Chinese) were also introduced in 2005.51

Selected awards
In 2004, Nanyang Girls’ High School received the People Developer Standard Award, in recognition of its holistic staff training.52 In the same year, the school also achieved the Singapore Quality Class certification for its overall excellence in business.53 In 2007, the school received the Ministry of Education’s School Excellence Award for achieving excellence in both education processes and outcomes.54 It bagged the same award in 2009.55 The school was also conferred the Singapore Quality Award in 2013 for its pursuit of business excellence.56

School motto
Diligence, Prudence, Respectability, Simplicity (勤慎端朴, qin shen duan pu).57

School crest and uniform
The first school crest was diamond-shaped, with the school’s Chinese name printed on it, against a light-blue background. It was designed by a former art teacher of the school, Chen Jun Wen, in 1946.58 In 1968, the diamond was superimposed over a bright-yellow ring printed with the words “Nanyang Girls’ High”. Below the yellow ring is a yellow banner bearing the school’s motto in Chinese.59 The new design was conceptualised by two teachers, Bao Mei Ju and Li Yu Lin.60

The earliest version of the school uniform was all white, with a mandarin collar, long sleeves and long skirt. In 1926, the collar was changed to round-neck, and the sleeves were lengthened and widened. The uniform was further altered in 1930: the sleeves were shortened to elbow-length, and a pocket was added to the blouse. In 1933, the school name was embroidered in red on the blouse. The uniform gradually changed over time: the skirt and sleeves became shorter, and the pocket was eventually removed. However, the overall style and colour of the uniform remained the same over the years.61

Notable alumni
In 2012, Nanyang Girls’ High School celebrated its 95th anniversary by releasing a commemorative publication in Chinese, titled传薪 (The Nanyang Journey: 95 Stories of Connected Lives), consisting of stories contributed by alumni about their memories of the school.62

Notable alumni of the school include the late politician Chan Choy Siong,63 Koh Sok Hiong (wife of former president Wee Kim Wee),64 Lee Wei Ling (director of the National Neuroscience Institute),65 the late Ling Siew May (wife of former president Ong Teng Cheong),66 Goh Soo Khim (co-founder of the Singapore Dance Theatre)67 and first woman mayor Yu-Foo Yee Shoon.68


Vina Jie-Min Prasad

1. Lee Lin Yee, ed., Nanyang Glory: 95 Years of Splendour 1917–2012 (Singapore: Nanyang Schools Alumni Association, 2012), 15–16. (Call no. RSING 370.95957 NAN)
2. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 33.
3. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 18, 31;Nanyang Moves,” New Paper, 7 June 1999, 6; “Nanyang Girls’ High Moves On,” Straits Times, 7 June 1999, 28. (From NewspaperSG)
4. Nanyang Girls’ High School 南洋女子中学校创, Nanyang nuzi zhongxuexiao chuang xiao qishiwu zhounian jinian tekan 南洋女子中学校创校七十五周年纪念特刊 [Nanyang Girls’ High School 75th anniversary magazine 1992] (Singapore: Nanyang Girls’ High School, 1992), 65 (Call no. Chinese RSING 373.5957 NAN); “Milestones,” Nanyang Girls’ High School, 2015; Lee, Nanyang Glory, 13–14.
5. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 16.
6. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 16.
7. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 15.
8. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 16.
9. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 16.
10. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 16, 18.
11. Lee Ting Hui, Chinese Schools in British Malaya: Policies and Politics (Singapore: South Seas Society, 2006), 46 (Call no. RSING 371.82995105951 LEE); T. R. Doraisamy, 150 Years of Education in Singapore (Singapore: Teachers’ Training College, 1969), 28–30. (Call no. RSING 370.95957 TEA)
12. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 20–21.
13. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 21.
14. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 23–24.
15. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 23–24.
16. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 25.
17. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 30.
18. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 31.
19. Nanyang Girls’ High School, Nanyang nuzi zhongxuexiao chuang xiao qishiwu zhounian jinian tekan, 65; Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones.”
20. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 33.
21. “Untitled,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 25 August 1931, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 35.
23. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 38–39.
24. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 40–41.
25. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 43; Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones.”
26. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 44.
27. Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones.”
28. “Colony Chinese Schools Send Petition,” Straits Times, 9 June 1950, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Girls’ School Gets 7-Day Ultimatum,” Straits Times, 6 June 1950, 1; “Chinese Schools: Still No Decision,” Straits Times, 21 July 1950, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
30. “Chinese Chamber to Appeal to Governor for Schools,” Straits Times, 30 June 1950, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
31. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 50; Raided Schools to Re-Open,” Straits Times, 11 August 1950, 1; “School Sends in Reply,” Straits Times, 13 June 1950, 7; “Schools Not to Re-Open Yet,” Straits Times, 29 July 1950, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “Raided Schools to Re-Open.”
33. “Raided Schools to Re-Open,”
34. “Students Must Sign ‘Will Obey’ Pledge,” Straits Times, 22 July 1950, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
35. Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones”; Lee, Nanyang Glory, 53–54.
36. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 55.
37. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 67.
38. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 67.
39. Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones”; Teresa Lim, “Special Schools for Cream of Bilingual Pupils,” Business Times, 1 December 1978, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
40. Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones”; “Bilingualism: Cream of 41,000 Can Join 9 Schools,” Straits Times, 1 December 1978, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
41. June Tan, “Full Day School to Spell End for Tuition?” Straits Times, 6 November 1980, 9; “No More Full-Day Schools to Be Set Up in ’83,” Straits Times, 13 January 1983, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “Full-Day School Pilot Programme Comes to Close,” Singapore Monitor, 13 December 1983, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
43. Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones”; “Full-Day School Pilot Programme”; Lee, Nanyang Glory, 64.
44. “Nanyang, RGS Fees,” New Paper, 2 December 1992, 4 (From NewspaperSG); Lee, Nanyang Glory, 89.
45. Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones.”
46. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 97, 100.
47. Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones.”
48. Nanyang Moves”; “Nanyang Girls’ High Moves On”; Braema Mathi, “Nanyang Girls Bid Old Campus Goodbye,” Straits Times, 30 May 1999, 34. (From NewspaperSG)
49. Lynn Lee, “All Nanyang Girls May Skip O Levels Soon,” Straits Times, 28 September 2004, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
50. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 117–9.
51. Ng Shing Yi, “BSP Starts Next Year,” Today, 5 October 2004, 6 (From NewspaperSG); Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Milestones.”
52. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 117.
53. “Congratulations,” Today, 10 October 2005, 38. (From NewspaperSG)
54. Sandra Davie, “Old Habits Die Hard – Focus Still on Academic Excellence,” Straits Times, 29 September 2007, 64 (From NewspaperSG); Ministry of Education, “Recognising Best Practices of Schools in Delivering Holistic Education,” press release, 18 September 2011.
55. “Achievements,” Nanyang Girls’ High School, 2013.
56. Nanyang Girls’ High School, “Achievements”; “Taking the Honours,” Business Times, 6 November 2013, 25. (From NewspaperSG)
57. “Mission, Vision and Motto,” Nanyang Girls’ High School, 2015.
58. “School Song and School Crest,” Nanyang Girls’ High School, 2015.
59. Nanyang Girls’ High School, “School Song and School Crest”; Lee, Nanyang Glory, 57.
60. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 57.
61. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 29.
62. Lee, Nanyang Glory, 152.
63. Nanyang Girls’ High School 南洋女子中学校创, Chuan Xin 传薪 [The Nanyang journey: 95 stories of Connected Lives] (Singapore: Nanyang Girls’ High School, 2012), 19. (Call no. Chinese RSING 373.5957 NAN)
64. Nanyang Girls’ High School, Chuan Xin, 29.
65. Nanyang Girls’ High School, Chuan Xin, 64.
66. Nanyang Girls’ High School, Chuan Xin, 15.
67. Tara Tan, “Hanging It Up,” Straits Times, 24 July 2008, 15 (From NewspaperSG); “Celebrating the Singapore Women’s Hall of Famers from Nanyang Girls’ High School,”
68. “Yu-Foo Yee Shoon,” Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame, n.d.

The information in this article is valid as of 2 March 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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