Seow Peck Leng
Educator, social worker and women’s rights activist
She was an educator, social worker, women’s rights activist and a politician, and in all these roles Mrs Seow Peck Leng’s concern was with improving the lives of people, especially women. Her compassion for the needy arose from her deep faith in God. Born to a middle class Peranakan family, she led a comfortable, care-free life until the Second World War. Her experiences during the war, she later said, changed her. She became a different person, she felt she could do things.
After the war she resumed her teaching career and, in 1954, became principal of the former Cantonment School. When a group of women led by Shirin Fozdar formed the Singapore Council of Women in 1952, Mrs Seow became a member.
In 1954 she she set up the Siglap Girls' Club to serve the needs of underprivileged girls. She wanted to provide training for them and equip them with skills that would improve their prospects in life. In 1957 she changed the focus of this effort to adult women, and formed the Singapore Women’s Association (SWA). Mrs Seow remained at the helm of the SWA until 1991.
In a letter to the press in April 1957, Mrs Seow announced the formation of the Professional Women’s Association and said it had been formed to look into the interests of professional women working in the government, with the key objective being to fight for equality in the teaching profession.
In 1959 Mrs Seow, who had been active in the Singapore Teachers’ Union for some time, successfully stood as a Singapore People’s Alliance (SPA) candidate for the Mountbatten constituency in General Election. For the next four years, she was the only woman opposition politician in the Legislative Assembly. As a parliamentarian, a major theme of hers was the abolishment of polygamy and for equal wages for women.
In June 1959, shortly after her election victory, she declared that she would press in the Legislative Assembly for equal status for women. Noting that equal status for women had been a key target of the People’s Action Party’s manifesto, she said: “Having been a champion of women’s rights since 1948, I will seek the cooperation of the women members on the Government bench to see that this is implemented immediately.”
The SPA fielded her in the Joo Chiat constituency in the 1963 General Election but she failed to win the seat. In 1965 she retired from politics and concentrated on her social and community work.
Seow Peck Leng passed away, aged 96, in 2007.
"I can’t stand failure. Problems make me fight harder."