Seven women inducted into Singapore Women's Hall of Fame

Mrs Santha Bhaskar received the Hall of Fame trophy from President Halimah Yacob at the Istana on March 8.
Mrs Santha Bhaskar received the Hall of Fame trophy from President Halimah Yacob at the Istana on March 8.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Seven women who are pioneers in social work, public health, sports, aviation and the arts were inducted into the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame on International Women's Day on Monday (March 8).

Mrs Santha Bhaskar, a pioneering dancer and choreographer, and representatives of the other six women who were honoured posthumously, received the Hall of Fame trophy from President Halimah Yacob at the Istana on Monday.

President Halimah, who is the patron of the Singapore Council of Women's Organisations (SCWO), said: "Today, I am delighted to induct another seven women to this list. Their contributions may be in different areas - such as in health and community services, the arts, sports, education and aviation - but what they have in common is the determination to excel, to do good and to make a difference in the world."

The Hall of Fame was launched by the SCWO in 2014 to celebrate the achievements and contributions of women, and to document and share their stories.

Monday’s 7th induction ceremony was postponed from last year because of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

President Halimah also launched Awesome Women of Singapore, a children’s book on the other 160 women who were inducted into the Hall of Fame in previous years, including the President herself who was honoured at its inception. 

Noting the values embodied by the honourees, Madam Halimah said: "They were bold and fearless, visionary and creative, courageous and compassionate, tenacious and determined, and most importantly generous and selfless. These women have shown us the importance of building resilience, learning to overcome setbacks, being free to dream, and working hard to make those dreams come true."

Madam Halimah also unveiled a new orchid hybrid - Papilionanthe SG Women - to commemorate International Women's Day and the Ministry of Social and Family Development's Year of Celebrating SG Women in 2021.

"I am sure that this flower will flourish and bloom like all our elegant and poised Singapore women who are always striving to fulfil their aspiration and achieve ever more for our nation, families and human kind," she said.

The seven new honourees of the Singapore Women's Hall of Fame are:

1. Santha Bhaskar

Pioneering dancer and choreographer

She came to Singapore with her husband K. P. Bhaskar in 1955 and assumed the post of artistic director and chief choreographer at Bhaskar's Art Academy, one of the first Indian dance schools here.


Mrs Santha Bhaskar and her husband K.P. Bhaskar performing at the City Hall steps. PHOTO: BHASKAR’S ART ACADEMY

In 1968, she was the Indian dancer featured in a series of stamps issued by Singapore Post Office to reflect Singapore's multiracial and multicultural society.

In her late 70s, she worked with researchers at the National University of Singapore's Centre for Quantum Technologies on dance performances that mimicked the behaviour of particles through fine, precise movements. She was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1990 and the Public Service Star in 2016.

2. Ida Mabel Murray Simmons

Public health pioneer


Ms Ida Mabel Murray Simmons came here in 1926 and introduced infant and maternal health services in rural Singapore. PHOTO: SINGAPORE WOMEN'S HALL OF FAME

The British nurse, who came here in 1926, introduced infant and maternal health services in rural Singapore, which occupied almost half of the island at the time. She visited every village, educating mothers and monitoring the health of babies in their first year.

By the time she retired and returned to Britain in 1948, there were 15 full-time rural maternity and child health centres, and 11 more that opened fortnightly, as well as a team of well-trained local rural nursing staff. She died in 1958.

3. Mae Noeline Oehlers

Sportswoman and educator


Ms Mae Noeline Oehlers became the first Singaporean principal of Raffles Girls' School in 1958. PHOTO: ST FILE

At the age of 14, Ms Oehlers started playing hockey with other members of the Girls Sports Club (GSC). They became one of the top ladies hockey teams in Singapore, with her as the star and top goal scorer.

She received a special award from the Singapore Hockey Association in 1981 for her contribution to women's hockey in Singapore. In 1958, she became the first Singaporean principal of Raffles Girls' School.

Ms Oehlers, who also served as the first principal of Cedar Girls' Secondary School in 1957, died in 1987.

4. Kwan Shan Mei

Pioneering illustrator


Ms Kwan Shan Mei was the first recipient of the Singapore Book Council's Book Award in the children's books category. PHOTO: ST FILE

Born in Harbin, China, Ms Kwan moved to Singapore in 1963 to become the art director of Far Eastern Publishers.

In 1976, she was the first recipient of the Singapore Book Council's Book Award in the children's books category. The citation spoke of her great ability to be "as lively and full of action or as soft and dreamlike as the story dictates".

In the late 1980s, she began to spend more time teaching and taught illustration at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. She retired in 1999 and moved to Vancouver, Canada. She died in 2012.

5. Myrna Braga-Blake

Social worker, educator, and activist


Dr Myrna Braga-Blake was president of the Singapore Association of Social Workers from 1982 to 1984. PHOTO: ST FILE

She became a medical social worker at KK Hospital in 1960 before joining the University of Singapore's Social Work Department as an assistant lecturer two years later.

She was president of the Singapore Association of Social Workers from 1982 to 1984.

A member of gender-equality advocacy group Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) since its launch in 1986, Dr Blake played a key role in setting up and developing its Women's Helpline.

In 2005, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease and continued her work for as long as she could. She died in May 2019.

6. Annabel Pennefather

Sports administrator and lawyer


Ms Annabel Pennefather captained the national women's team from 1970 to 1980. PHOTO: ST FILE

A national hockey player at 16, she captained the national women's team from 1970 to 1980. In 2004, she became the first woman president of the Singapore Hockey Federation, and in 2006, the first woman elected as Singapore National Olympic Council vice-president.

After earning her law degree, she joined law firm Donald & Burkinshaw and later became the first woman in the firm's 100-year history to become an equity partner.

In 1995, she was elected vice-president of the Law Society of Singapore. She died in 2020.

7. Teo Ah Hong

First woman to qualify as a commercial pilot


Ms Teo Ah Hong was the first woman in Singapore with a commercial pilot licence. PHOTO: ST FILE

Ms Teo was one of five girls who completed the six-month flying course after the Junior Flying Club was set up to train future pilots for the Singapore armed forces and commercial airlines in 1971.

She went on to be the only woman in the Singapore General Aviation Services' pilot-instructor course. Passing the course in 1974, she became and the first woman in Singapore with a commercial pilot licence.

She then joined the Singapore Flying College established by Singapore Airlines as a chief flying instructor, a post she held until 2001. She died in 2020.