Southlands College - 125 golden years
It is a pleasure to honour one’s Alma Mater on a memorable occasion
when she is proudly commemorating her 125th anniversary in 2010.
Southlands College began as an English Medium Education Institute in the
latter part of the 19th Century in accordance with the education
policies that prevailed during the British Period.
The school was started in 1885 by the Methodist Mission with the
intention of promoting English education in Southern Sri Lanka and in
the beginning, it was known as Girls High School, Galle. Since its
inception, the school was under the management of the Methodist Mission
up to 1962.
The period of 1960-1962 is considered important in the history of
Southlands as it was on the verge of being vested in the Government
according to the policy of the Government in power at that time. In 1962
the college was registered as a Government school and the last Principal
under the missionary management retired from service in 1962.
The new building of the school
The overall vision and objectives of the school at the very beginning
under a missionary management was not only to impart book learning to
girl students but to make them useful citizens to the country by being
good and caring mothers to a generation. Educationalist P.De.S.
Kularatna, in a tribute to Christian missionaries in a Richmond College
magazine, stated what they did was to befriend their pupils and give
them living models of what life is all about. All missionary principals
have done wonders to put a solid foundation to the school to nurture
Southlands as a popular school in Southern Sri Lanka during the 20th
Excellence in studies and many extra curricular activities elevated
the institution to a prestigious position in the field of education. She
had produced distinguished and renowned personalities to the nation and
some of them have been honoured as pioneers of various professional
fields of expertise.
At the inception, a large number of Burgher students, both male and
female, were attending school and a small percentage of boys were in the
primary section. When the number of Sinhala and Muslim female students
started increasing gradually, it was unable to accommodate all and
therefore, it was compelled to stop admitting boys making Southlands a
Education was provided with minimum facilities at first during the
missionary period and there had been a rapid development within a few
years mainly from 1902 owing to courage and determination of a string of
dedicated Principals, namely, Edith de Vos (Ludovici), M. Westlake and
M. Freethy and E. Ridge. E.de Vos, serving in tutorial staff, became the
Principal being the first past pupil to hold the post when there was a
scarcity of missionary Principals. Hers was a remarkable period of
development with the introduction of library reading, Western music and
Physical Training which were encouraged and developed by all principals.
A new era dawned with Westlake as Principal in 1907.
She inaugurated the Past Pupils Association, First Galle Girl Guide
Company and more development was shown in the academic field with the
introduction of science as a subject and building a science laboratory
and also a special unit for the kindergarten children. Providing
boarding facilities to students and, teachers for their well-being by
Westlake in 1917 is a major event in the school’s history.
The rapid development enabled the school to be upgraded by the
Government in 1922, and M Freethy re-named the school as “Southlands” to
honour Westlake as she had studied at Southlands institution in the
United Kingdom before came to Sri Lanka. The school had the right to be
named as such for its geographical location too.
During the first quarter of the 19th Century, two dedicated
Principals, M. Freethy and M. Ridge happily devoted their lives to
upgrade the school in many avenues. They had very liberal ideas on
women’s education and helped many a student to continue higher studies.
In the 1930s university graduates were rare and the girls were not
encouraged to follow higher studies.
Freethy and Ridge had the perceptive insight to guide the gifted
students to enter the Medical College or the Training College or any
other field during that era. The entire Roberts family in Fort, Prof.
Stella de Silva, Dr. Buddimathi Kulatunga, Dr. Yvette Brohier, Noeline
Jayawardena, Prof. Daphny Attygala entered University even though
Southlands did not have facilities for such education; but they found
accommodation in nearby schools or in Colombo under the guidance by
A few of them Lolita Ranasinghe, Fidelia Samarasinghe, Estelle
Jurianze, Clara Nanayakkara, entered the Training College. They are
certainly only a few among many fortunate students who were able to
follow higher studies with such guidance.
Another old girl of Southlands, Joyce Goonesekera, found an
alternative path to success and brought fame to Sri Lanka by being the
pioneer montessori teacher who introduced the Maria Montessori method of
teaching. Prof. E.F.C. Ludowyk, a pioneer in the field of drama and
internationally famous carrier diplomat Dr. Neville Kanakaratna are
among the few males who had the primary education at Southlands. Prof.
Stella de Silva became the first woman in Sri Lanka to obtain her MD.
Successful at both MRCP (Edinburgh) Paediatrics and MRCP (London)
Medicine in 1954, she had the privilege of becoming the first woman in
South Asia to obtain both degrees at the first sitting. She was awarded
the Vidyajothi title from the State in 1994 in appreciation of her
distinguished work in the field of science and medicine. Dr. Buddhimathi
Kulatunga, a friend who followed in Stella’s footsteps, became the first
lady Doctor to be the resident house officer at the Castle Street
Hospital at its opening.
The principals who were dedicated missionaries professed no
discrimination. They were worried when Muslim students were confined to
their homes attaining puberty and made arrangements to teach them and to
enjoy girl guiding too at their homes and the classes became popular
among the students.
Education in vernacular mediums
Most colleges at that time did not emphasise on teaching Sinhala, and
the urban middle class who had their education in English medium used to
imitate western culture and the mother-tongue was given step-motherly
The school motto Knit together in Love and Service was depicted on
the School logo in simple English and Sinhalese which is unusual for an
English Medium school during the colonial period. Special emphasis was
given to teach Sinhala and Sinhala Literature. A Sinhala stage drama was
a special feature in the program of ‘Southlands Week’ held annually
where all main school events celebrated within one whole week. Being
missionaries, they never had any religious discrimination.
The annual stage drama was always based on Buddhist Jathaka stories
or historical legends from Sri Lanka and India. Realizing the value of
Sri Lankan culture Ridge introduced a specially trained dancing and
music teacher, Herman Perera from Payagala, in 1955 and the children had
the opportunity to learn the Eastern Music and Oriental Dancing. Perera
directed students in the field of drama too and stage drama was produced
by the college very successfully. In 1970, the school produced Kusa
Jatakaya, which was the final play in a series of stage dramas that
began with the first Sinhala drama Asokamala in 1924, encouraged by
While trying to educate the student in the English medium, the
Principals encouraged them to learn Sinhalese too to improve their
knowledge, talents and skills in various fields. Even though there were
a few Tamil students in the school they provided facilities to them to
learn Tamil Language. Principal’s report of 1939 states.
“Although there are a very few Tamil children in the school, Tamil
has been taught regularly for a number of years. This is in accordance
with our policy of emphasising the vernacular. Practically all our
classes are working on a time table which gives an average of a
Sinhalese lesson a day...”.
We should pay gratitude to them for paving a path to introduce
‘Swabasha’ to Southlanders in different avenues even before 1956.
When Southlands entered the free scheme of education in 1951, English
was bound to lose some of the importance and interest with the change of
medium in studies. Ridge was not happy about the change.
In her School Report 1955, she says “one of the problems that is
making itself vaguely felt is that few girls who have always had
difficulty with English now feel that pass in Sinhala is all that
matters ...we ask the co-operation of parents in our endeavour to
maintain a high standard in both English and Sinhala.” She was far
sighted and Sri Lanka has experienced the gravity of it today when we
find many students who find it difficult without language skills to
fulfil their ambitions in the careers of their choice.
Even though Physical Training was taught in school from 1902, more
development was visible in the field of sports when Ridge introduced
Nalini de Silva, a Physical Instructress trained at College of Physical
Training Saidapet, Madras, to develop the students’ athletic skills. Two
major sports in the era were athletics and Net Ball and Southlanders
participated in many tournaments and were able to bring credit and
honour to the college in the mid 19th Century.
Even though Ridge knew that the school will be handed over to the
Government in a few years time, with much courage she embarked on an
ambitious building scheme to find comfortable shelter for more children
as she was aware of the future needs far ahead of time.
Pupils, past pupils, parents, teachers and all well wishers who loved
Ridge gave the fullest co-operation and the majestic three storeyed
‘Ridge Building’ housing the upper school, the office, the principal’s
flat, the science block, art room and library was completed before her
retirement in 1956.
It became a great asset to the school which stands as a great
monument of her love and labour for our alma mater. We witnessed a
golden era of Southlands due to her influence as vice Principal and
Principal for more than 20 years which was remarkably wide and deep
towards the development of the school at all times.
When the missionary period ended in 1962, school had less than 800
students and Principal identified almost all the students by their first
name and all were dedicated to follow the motto making the school a
small family. Today Southlands College being a National School caters to
a large number of students with over 4,000 students and consists of a
tutorial staff of 175 teachers.
Southlands being a pioneer girls’ school in the island will be a
legend in the history of education in Southern Sri Lanka. We should not
forget that it is situated within the surroundings of a World Heritage
It will be a great pleasure to all past and present Southlanders if
the authorities are making an attempt to develop a Museum since there is
a fair amount of items and important documents available which could be
displayed with much pride to flourish the glory of the school far and
wide. Southlanders who are spending the evening of their lives will
bring back memories of their childhood when reminiscing the past
glorious days of our alma mater with much love and gratitude.