Southlands College Galle, a premier Girls school in Southern Province was started in 1885 by the Methodist Mission with a small group of 51 children in two large down-stair rooms in a house in Fort, Galle in accordance to the Educational Policy of the British prevailed during the latter part of the 19th century. The first Principal was Ms. Lucy Vanderstraten. The intention of the Mission was to promote English education in Southern Sri Lanka and the school was originally known as Girls High School, Galle.
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 girls-only school.
During the first decade many missionary principals rendered their services but unable to continue for longer periods due to various reasons. Rapid development was visible from 1902 when Miss Edith de Vos became the Principal being the very first past Pupil to hold the post. Then onwards school developed in many fields and became a popular Senior Secondary school in the Southern Province owing to courage and determination of a string of dedicated Principals Miss Edith de Vos, Miss M. Westlake, Miss M. Freethy and Miss Edith Ridge until the Missionary management ended in 1956.
The school developed rapidly during the 20th century and was upgraded by the Colonial Government as a senior secondary school and accordingly the management re-named the school as ‘SOUTHLANDS in 1923 during the period of Ms. M. Freethy as Principal.The new name was specially chosen to honour Miss Westlake the much devoted Principal who developed the school in many avenues at the very beginning. School became Southlands since she had her missionary training at Southlands College in the United Kingdom before her arrival in Sri Lanka and the school too had the right to its name by reason of its geographical position too.
Southlands College has a history of its own from the inception with many special features which were rare among the English Medium Missionary schools during the colonial period. Miss Freethy became Miss Westlake’s successor and rendered 17 long years being yet another dedicated Missionary. In addition to the normal school curriculum students were encouraged to widen their knowledge in different areas by being involved in many extra curricular activities during her era which was continued till the end of the Missionary period. Southlanders had a rare privilege of learning the mother tongue through many varied activities though the education was given mainly in the English medium apparently. At a time when Sinhala language was given step motherly treatment in many English medium Colleges and did not emphasise on teaching Sinhala in schools during the British era Southlanders were very fortunate to learn the great Sinhala literature because the Missionary Principals Miss Freethy and later Miss Ridge gave an every opportunity and promoted the mother tongue with the help of an excellent staff who taught the subject at their best. They were overjoyed to hear when students passed the Subject Sinhala at the Cambridge Examinations.
The Missionary Principals also encouraged their pupils to honour the Lankan culture, History and the literature. They fostered an interest in oriental Music and drama. In 1924 the first Sinhala play ‘Asokamala’ based on a legend from Sri Lankan history was produced by the school and it became a novel experience to the students who were quite familiar with western drama. Then onwards a Sinhala play became an annual feature in school celebrations and they were based on Historical events from Sri Lanka and India or Buddhist Jataka stories. This should be considered as an outstanding feature in the history of Southlands because the urban middle class who had their education in English Medium used to imitate western culture giving step-motherly treatment to the Mother tongue during this era.
A history of the Methodist Church by Rev.W.J.T.Small states that “Study of Sinhalese had always been taken seriously in the school and pupils were offered the subject at the Senior Cambridge Examination- a rare feature of such schools; and the indigenous art too was encouraged by the school”
Principal’s report of 1939 states …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 Missionary Principals for paving a path to introduce ‘Swabasha’ in different forms to Southlanders during the Colonial period when Sinhala language was not given a proper recognition.
“Southlands Week’ was another special feature in the annals of Southlands. Miss Freethy encouraged the pupils to take part in many school activities along with their studies in the curriculum. Girl Guiding, Many areas of sports, Music, Western and eastern drama, dancing, Needle Work, Home Economics, Handicraft and First Aid were among the other activities where the management took a keen interest to help the student to widen their knowledge. During the ‘Southlands Week’ almost all the Children were given an opportunity to display their talents in all areas of activities since main activities were celebrated within one whole week. Southlands Week programme continued through out the Missionary period until the school was vested in the Government. When taking in to consideration all these activities become special in the schools history because they could be valued as very rare features found in Missionary Colleges during the Colonial era.
After Ceylon gained Independence Southlands College entered the Free Scheme of Education in April 1951. The full cost of salaries was met by the Government but in order to maintain the prevailing standard of efficiency in school, provision was made for the charge of a facilities & services fee from Rs.2/50 in the Kindergarten to Rs. 5/in Form five. Thereafter Southlands came under the Education Department of Ceylon (as a director managed school) but the administration came under the view of the Methodist Mission up to 1962.
Ref. –Principal’s Report 1950 June- 1951 July
From 1960-1962 the school underwent a transitional phase of being vested in the Government according to the policy of the state. In 1962 the period of Methodist Mission ended and Southlands College was registered as a Government school and Mrs. Rupa Nanayakkara assumed duties in March 1962 as the first Principal under the state. In 1985 School gained recognition among the first 18 National Schools in the Island.
In 1962 Southlands registered as a state school and Mrs. Rupa Nanyakkara introduced and developed both the Arts and Science streams for the Advanced Level examinations and many children had the opportunity to enter universities as Southlanders. When Mrs. Daniels became the Principal in 1976 she was able to introduce the Commerce stream as well as the fine arts stream to the curriculum and Southlands College was able to maintain a very high standard at the both Ordinary Level and Advanced Level examinations through out the past years up to now in almost in all the streams keeping the school flag flying high in the sky. All the Principals Mrs. Rajapaksa, Mrs. Kumarasinghe and Mrs. Gunawardena who became principals followed the method of management introduced by Miss Daniel and school functioned well through out the years.
Many dedicated Methodist Missionary Principals as well as Sri Lankan Principals have rendered a valuable service to make Southlands one of the best Girls schools in Sri Lanka developing the school in the academic field as well as in many extra-curricular activities to be shined as a great Institution in the Southern Sri Lanka up-to now.
Southlands College is celebrated her 125th anniversary in 2010 with many accolades in her hand in both in academic and as well as in many extra curricular activities in number of fields such as sports , Drama, dancing, Music, Guiding etc.