Singapore Chinese Girls’ School

Singapore Infopedia


Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (SCGS) is an independent school comprising primary and secondary levels.1 Established in 1899 on Hill Street, it is the first Chinese girls’ school founded in Singapore. During its early history, the school provided education in English and Chinese to Chinese girls, at a time when female education in Singapore was neglected.2 The school was relocated three times, including spending 70 years at Emerald Hill, before settling in its present location on Dunearn Road in 1994.3

The school owes its establishment to a small group of Chinese men, including Lim Boon Keng, Song Ong Siang and Khoo Seok Wan, with Lim taking an active role in advocating for the founding of a Chinese girls’ school.4 Lim believed that the lack of female education was one of the reasons for China’s defeat during the first Sino-Japanese War (1894–95).5 Elder members of the community, however, objected to the idea of setting up and running a girls’ school where students were taught morals, needlework, cooking and one language thoroughly.6

Nevertheless, the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School was opened on 3 July 1899 at a house named Deveronside at No. 52 Hill Street with seven students and Mary Geary as its first headmistress.7 Among its teaching staff was Lim’s first wife, Margaret Wong, who taught Chinese to the older girls twice a week.8

The first few decades of the school’s history were fraught with difficulties. Amid strong opposition from conservatives, carriages had to be arranged for the girls to be ferried between the school and their homes in order to avoid public scrutiny.9 By December 1906, high rental rates had forced the school to relocate to another site also on Hill Street.10 However, the school needed a better building and its own land.11 On 13 July 1908, the school moved again, this time to the corner of Hill Street and Coleman Street (the area now occupied by the Central Fire Station), with land offered by the colonial government.12 During this period, the school was facing issues such as financial difficulties, a high turnover rate among the teachers and the employment of underqualified staff to fill vacancies.13
In the early 1920s, the need for a new site and school building arose again because the colonial government had acquired the land for expansion of the Central Fire Station.14 Moreover, the existing school premises were found to be too old and the locality overcrowded with commercial buildings.15 A piece of land belonging to Lim at No. 37 Emerald Hill, facing Emerald Hill Road and Cairnhill Road, was acquired for the construction of a new purpose-built school building, complete with 12 classrooms, an assembly hall, a staff room and a principal’s office.16 This double-storey building served as the school’s premises for the next 70 years.17

The school became a self-contained institution incorporating Junior and Senior Cambridge classes in 1936, a policy in line with other girls’ schools to facilitate students’ entry into Raffles College and King Edward VII College of Medicine.18 Three years later, SCGS saw another major milestone in its history: the appointment of Tan Swee Khin as its acting headmistress, the first time the school was headed by a non-European. Tan formally succeeded Jessie Elizabeth Geake as the school principal when the latter retired in 1951.19

Japanese Occupation and postwar developments
During the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945, the school was turned into quarters providing “comfort women” to Japanese troops.20 Lessons resumed after the war.21 In 1947, the school ceased to be a wholly Chinese school as it extended its enrolment to girls of all ethnicities.22

Later developments
In 1989, its 90th anniversary, SCGS became an independent school.23 The Singapore government offered land on Dunearn Road to the school in exchange for the site at Emerald Hill, and in 1994 the school relocated to Dunearn Road, its present premises.24 The new school building was officially opened by then Minister for Education Lee Yock Suan on 8 July 1995. Three of the school blocks were named after Song Ong Siang, Tan Hoon Siang and Evan Wong, in honour of the pioneers who had contributed significantly to the building and running of the school.25

Among the school’s alumni are Lee Choo Neo, the first local Chinese girl to obtain the Senior Cambridge certificate and the first woman in Singapore to qualify for medical practice; ex-parliamentarian Seow Peck Leng; and Singapore’s 16th Rhodes scholar, Patricia Tan Shu Ming.26 Unknown to many, the school also took in male students in its early days, among them playwright Felix Chia.27

Recent developments
In conjunction with its 110th anniversary in 2009, the SCGS heritage centre was launched in 2009. In 2011, SCGS was awarded the Best Practice Award (Student All-Round Development). In 2013, the school began to offer the Integrated Programme (IP) alongside its GCE (General Certificate of Education) ‘O’-Level programme. In 2016, SCGS introduced the bi-cultural programme to its Secondary Three IP students, and the humanities and music elective programmes to its junior college students.28


Chow Yaw Huah & Goh Yu Mei

1. “Principal’s Message,” Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, 22 March 2016.
2. “Chinese Girls School,” Straits Times, 14 February 1920, 10 (From NewspaperSG); “The Singapore Chinese Girls’ School (A Historical Sketch),” The Straits Chinese Magazine 10, no. 4 (1907): 164–7. (Call no. RRARE 959.5 STR; microfilm NL268)
3. “SCGS Milestones,” Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, accessed 22 March 2016.
4. “Singapore Chinese Girls’ School,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 24 April 1899, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
5. “Singapore Chinese Girls’ School,” 164–7.
6. “Singapore Chinese Girls’ School,” The Straits Chinese Magazine 3, no. 10 (1899): 70–71 (Call no. RRARE 959.5 STR; microfilm NL267); “Our Nyonyas,” The Straits Chinese Magazine 7, no. 4 (1899): 129–30 (Call no. RRARE 959.5 STR; microfilm NL267)
7. “Singapore Chinese Girls’ School,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 24 June 1899, 2 (From NewspaperSG); Song Ong Siang, One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1984), 305 (Call no. RSING 959.57 SON-[HIS]); Ooi Yu-Lin, Pieces of Jade and Gold: An Anecdotal History of the Singapore Chinese Girls’ School 1899–1999 (Singapore: Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, 1999), 52 (Call no. RCLOS 373.5957 OOI); “Singapore Chinese Girls’ School,” 164–7.
8. Song, One Hundred Years' History, 237; “The Singapore Chinese Girls’ School,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 8 August 1899, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
9. “Singapore Chinese Girls’ School,” The Straits Chinese Magazine 6, no. 24 (1902): 168–9 (Call no. RRARE 959.5 STR; microfilm NL267); “All in the (SCGS) Family…,” Straits Times, 1 December 1997, 37. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Ooi, Pieces of Jade and Gold, 15; “Page 2 Advertisements Column 4: Wanted,” Eastern Daily Mail and Straits Morning Advertiser, 17 December 1906, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Price 10 Cents,” Straits Times, 25 March 1908, 6; “West Teaching East,” Straits Times, 25 January 1908, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Ooi, Pieces of Jade and Gold, 15; “The Singapore Chinese Girls School,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 11 July 1908, 7; “Singapore Fire Department,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 31 May 1924, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Song, One Hundred Years' History, 306, 448; “Singapore Chinese Girls’ School,” 164–7; “Chinese Girls’ School,” Straits Times, 5 February 1921, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
14. “Chinese Girls’ School”; “Singapore Fire Brigade,” Straits Times, 28 September 1922, 10. (From NewspaperSG_
15. “Chinese Girls’ School,” Straits Times, 30 October 1924, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Chinese Girls’ School,” Straits Times, 13 December 1823, 10 (From NewspaperSG); “Chinese Girls’ School”; Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, “SCGS Milestones.”
17. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, “SCGS Milestones.”
18. “Straits Chinese Education,” Straits Times, 18 August 1936, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
19. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, “SCGS Milestones.”
20. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, Spice Is Life (Singapore: Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, 2009), 17. (Call no. RSING 641.5 SPI)
21. “More Schools to Reopen,” Straits Times, 30 September 1945, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
22. Ooi, Pieces of Jade and Gold, 30.
23. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, “SCGS Milestones.”
24. “New SCGS Premises to Have Archive to Preserve School’s Past,” Straits Times, 12 January 1993, 21. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “Singapore Chinese Girls’ Men and Their Roles,” Straits Times, 9 July 1995, 22. (From NewspaperSG)
26. “Dr. Lee Choo Neo,” Straits Times, 24 November 1935, 15; “King Edward VII Medical School,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser, 3 September 1917, 8 (From NewspaperSG); Ooi, Pieces of Jade and Gold, 20; Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, Spice Is Life, 21, 58–59.
27. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, Spice Is Life, 11; “Singapore Chinese Girls’ School,” Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), 21 March 1931, 12 (From NewspaperSG); “Singapore Chinese Girls’.”
28. Singapore Chinese Girls’ School, “SCGS Milestones.”

The information in this article is valid as of 2016 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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