Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Women of Vision

This tribute is taken from the 1983 School Magazine.
It was written by Lim Poh Lian (Form 5 - 1982), and read during the 90th anniversary celebration in 1983.

Dense equatorial jungle ruled the land,
Stalked the Main Range and the foothills,
Green and lush and wild was the Malaya of 1893.

Away in the blue distance snaked the Klang,
A mighty mud-brown serpent stretched lazily Coiled in the mid-day sun.
You could almost hear the cries of the dulang-workers
Calling to one another as they stood
Knee-deep in the swirling water,
Harvesting the rich lode from the rust-red earth.

Over such a scene must the gaze
Of that small missionary band have travelled.
And as they contemplated their task,
Were they, perhaps, dismayed?
Daunted by the enormity
Indeed, the folly, of that colossal undertaking they had attempted.

They lived in the strait-laced Victorian era
which was to last eight more years,
And the British Empire was in the noon-day of its glory.
Women in England would not win the right to vote for another thirty-five years, And many prestigious institutions of higher learning
Would remain bastions of male chauvinism for eighty more years.

A woman was regarded as a man's belonging,
His chattel, his slave,
Her value somewhat above that of a servant,
Somewhat below the price of a good cow.
A docile home-maker,
A submissive creature who ministered to her man's needs,
With no opinions, no individuality, no mind of her own.
A baby-factory.

What hope did they have?
Against the inflexible decree of society "A woman's place is in the kitchen."
A pipe-dream, a ridiculous fancy!
What earthly good could learning to read and write possibly do the creatures?

But 90 years ago, these women came.
Women of foresight, Women of vision.
And they saw the need for girls to be educated.
It is because of them that Bukit Bintang schools exist at all today.

Yet, had they been women of vision only
Nothing may have come of it.
The world has enough dreamers,
enough visionaries, enough shaggy-haired leaders with faraway looks in their eyes,
And not enough men and women who are prepared to work to put solid foundations under those castles in the air.

Well, these women were women of action as well,
Women of great faith and courage.
They bulldozed their way past objections and obstacles,
Tranformed impossibilities into realities
Through sheer uncompromising determination, toil and prayer.

Money needed? They went out and worked for it.
Ingenuity and resourceful wits made up for the lack of rich backers.
Teachers? Well, they were qualified, were they not?
Pupils? They went out and persuaded
Reluctant, dubious, openly sceptical parents,
Calling on each family in person.

Slowly, surely, the dream took shape
And our school began to grow.
There, in the desolate place in Brickfields,
Miss Betty Langlands planted the seed of education for girls
(though boys were admitted as scholars too!)
That seed grew for nine years under Miss Bessie Maclay's care
Even while it was uprooted and moved to Petaling Hill and Davidson Road.

Miss Maclay was a strict woman,
Her word was law.
But she was loved by all who knew her
And when she left for the US during World War I
And her ship, the Lusitania was lost at sea with all aboard,
Great was their grief.
But her memory lives on in Maclay House.

After her, Miss Shirtliff continued the work of the women of vision.
Then, Miss Ruth Lewis and Miss Molly Ham,
Who kept the school going during the difficult war years.
When they left, Mrs W.H. Green took the helm till Miss A. Luke arrived in 1919. Green and Shirtliff Houses are named after these two sisters.

Miss O'Connor was here in 1922.
Then in 1925, Miss Eva Prouse came to join the growing family of BBGS.
Three years later, she presented the first BBGS students for the Cambridge School Certificate Examinations.
Among them, Mrs Chuah Kim Neo,
later Headmistress of the Primary School.
Truly, a milestone in our history.
Prouse House carries her name
And Prouse Wing was built with the savings she left the school.

In 1930, Miss Mary Glasgow relieved Miss Prouse.
The school, then 250-strong, moved to its location in Bukit Bintang
The School on a Starry Hill.

Then came the war.
BBGS was commandeered by the Japanese,
Used as a military camp.
Lessons had to be suspended, classes disbanded,
Some of the teachers were imprisoned.
Miss Glasgow survived the internment in Sumatra,
Miss Prouse did not.

By the time the British returned in September 1945,
All Malaya was in a sorry state.
The economy was in shambles,
The banana-notes of the Occupation were not even worth the paper they were printed on.
Transport was at a standstill, unemployment rife,
Food was scarce, medical supplies even more so,
And BBGS suffered with all the rest.

But even in that dark hour,
The legacy of the women of vision did not dim. Resolutely, Miss T.M.Too set out to restore what was left
And to rebuild anew.

By the time Miss Glasgow returned in 1946,
Things were really starting to move.
She was awarded an MBE for her loyal,
whole-hearted service in the field of Malayan education.
By the time she retired, she had spent 31 years with BBGS.

1950 was a golden year in many ways.
Prouse Wing was opened, traditions were in the making,
Foremost among them, the Choral Speaking Competition.
Societies and activities were mushrooming
Including the Literary and Debating Society and the Badminton Club.
1951 was the year of that eagerly-awaited 'baby'
Our very own School Magazine.

It was also a time of significance for the women of vision.
For as they grew older and had to lay down the great task,
New women of vision were rising to answer the call,
Accepting the challenge to build on the foundations already laid.
But there was something special, something familiar about these young women.
Why, yes! They were old girls,
Pure bred BBGSians
Who had now returned to pass it on,
The flame of dedicated service and love.

By 1958, the mantle of leadership fell to Miss Elena M. Cooke,
Bringing with it, responsibility for a school of 520 pupils and 20 staff.
Years before, her parents were in the school
And Cooke House was named after her father.

Her era was to last 20 years,
She was the master-builder of the age,
Hers was the era of building,
The School Hall, the new Home Science Block,
Our brother school, BBBS,
The excellent library, The school fields, the Science labs, the Canteen block,
And the Gymnasium.

During that time, the school grew from strength to strength.
Food sales, funfairs, class cleanliness and a floral arrangment competition, toilet cleaning.
Then she retired, having earned an AMN and a KMN for her service.
Her place was taken by Mrs. S.K. Ang
And then, Miss G.K. Yeap
The school now stands at 1800 pupils and 67 staff.

All this time, the vision has never stopped growing,
Expanding bigger and wider and greater.
It is no longer limited to achieving literacy among girls,
For look! A 17-year old has produced this historical poem.

We have produced doctors and lawyers, nurses and teachers,
Successful careerwomen, yes.
But also, successful housewives - home-makers, mothers,
the ones who are entrusted with the care of
The Tomorrow-People, today's children.
Women who are no less important
Though what they do may be less glamorous and receive less recognition.

The vision has grown very wide indeed.
Where do we go from here?
The sky is no longer the limit.
Possibilities abound.
All the world lies ahead, waiting to be explored.
But our motto holds us to our purpose.
NISI DOMINUS FRUSTRA - Without God, all is in vain.
And in some ways,
Our vision today is the same as that we had 90 long years ago.
To produce upright young women who will know what is right,
And do it.
Women worthy of this nation.

All the girls who have passed through BBGS,
Though each is different,
Though she may live in different eras,
Be scattered to all corners of the earth,
In all walks of life,
Yet - Every girl has felt the touch of BBGS,
The shining heritage of The Women of Vision.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So, it wasn't formerly hospital area...thanks for the info...cause last time in primary school there were rumors spread that BBGS was a hospital.