MISS M. FREETHY (1918 -1935)
Miss Mabel Freethy joined the tutorial staff in 1917. Miss Westlake married captain L Robins and had to leave Southlands in 1918. Miss Freethy became her successor and took over the management of the school in 1918. She rendered a service of 17 long years being yet another dedicated Missionary. She did her best to uplift the school to a prestigious position. She made many changes in the school curriculum and a very rapid growth and development was visible to all.
The most important event during her period was the publishing of the first school magazine Galle, Girls High School Magazine in 1919, edited by a student, Zina Perera. The Magazine published for a very long period of time. It is of value to this day being the most valuable source of information we have to collect data regarding the development of the school over a period of 77 years under the Missionary Management. These magazines provide a detailed account of the programmes which had been carried out over the years. Students were encouraged to widen their knowledge in different areas by being involved in many extra curricular activities. Old magazines reveal that the Southlanders had the rare privilege of learning their mother tongue through many varied activities and programmes. Education seems to have been given mainly in the English Medium.
Miss Freethy’s devoted service helped the school to develop rapidly. In order to improve the standard of teaching in science, she bought essential equipment for the science laboratory. Miss G. M. Edwards, a science graduate who was the Vice Principal at that time, helped to improve knowledge in science and the subject became popular among the students. The school became popular in the district due to her academic achievements. A demand for more admissions to the school as well as for the hostel was registered. In 1921 Muhandiram Wickramasingha, a Philanthropist, very kindly donated a two storied building to provide boarding facilities in memory of his daughters Grace and Evelyn, past pupils of Southlands. It was declared open on the same day as of the annual Prize Distribution in 1921. The building was named Wickramasingha Hostel This turned out to be a great asset to the school.
Very soon, the popularity of the school, its achievements and many extra curricular activities of the school were recognised by the Education department. The Government upgraded the school to a Secondary School on June 20th 1922. The authorities celebrated the great event with much enthusiasm on the 23rd of June. The authorities now wish to have a more appropriate name for the school. At the annual prize giving on the on 18th June 1923, when Miss Freethy was Principal, a new name was announced by Rev. A.E. Restarick that the school was named Southlands. This was a fitting testimony to the devoted services rendered by Miss Westlake who was responsible for uplifting the school to its present position. This name was a tribute to Miss Westlake who had her training at an institution in U.K. called Southlands before her arrival in Sri Lanka. The geographical position of the school in Galle made this name really acceptable to most people.
It was Miss Freethy who encouraged the students to learn their mother tongue. Students were given an opportunity to learn Sinhala language and also literature in keeping with the culture and history. The college magazine published in July 1921 says, We are glad indeed to find that many of our girls in the higher forms are taking a deep interest in the study of Sinhalese. For the first time in the history of the school a senior Cambridge candidate passed with Sinhalese as a subject. Her good example was followed by many others.
Miss Freethy tried to educate the Sri Lankan youth to honour their mother tongue and fostered an interest in oriental music and litereature. She encouraged Sinhala drama as well as western drama in school.
In 1924, the first Sinhala play, “Asokamala”, based on a legend from Sri Lankan history, was staged and thereafter a Sinhala play became a special feature of the annual celebrations of the school. Annual stage drama was always based on Buddhist Jathaka stories or historical legends from Sri Lanka and India. This was an outstanding feature of Southlands because most colleges did not emphasise the teaching of Sinhala during the colonial period and the youth gave step-motherly treatment to their mother tongue imitating western culture. Miss M. Silva, Miss Beeta Wijesinha, Miss Koddippily and Miss Nancy De Silva are some of the teachers who had assisted Miss Freethy making the subject interesting to the students and giving an opportunity to learn the great Sinhalese poetry and ancient literature. This made a path to foster a taste for indigenous art among students.
The Methodist Church record of 1940, describing an appreciation of Miss Freethy’s services says, One of the many subjects that Miss Freethy has fostered at Southlands is an interest in the national language, oriental music and literature. In 1924 the first Sinhala play ”Asokamala” was staged. Now a Sinhala play is a special feature of the annual celebrations of the school.
Staging a Sinhala play became a novel experience to the students who used to perform western drama, especially Shakespeare plays produced by the Cambridge forms in order to improve their knowledge in English literature.
Another significant incident to note during Miss Freethy’s period is choosing a motto for the school. The May 1924 edition of the School Magazine defines the motto introduced at a dinner party served at Miss Edward’s bungalow for thirty Southlanders and the teaching staff. Dinner was served in a transformed dining room from one another stretched the table prettily decorated with flowers and menu cards which had been specially designed and drawn by the girls and they bore the school motto in Sinhalese and English ”Knit together in love and service”. (“Premayenda, Sevayenda, Bendi Sitimu”)
This clearly shows how Miss Freethy honoured the social and cultural values within the educational environment.
Another significant event which occurred during her era is inaugurating the “Southlands Week” in 1923. All the main events of the school such as Prize Giving, Sports Meet, Inter House Singing Competition, Sinhala stage drama, Nativity play, Church service and Past Pupils Dinner party etc. took place during the week. The special week gave every child an opportunity to display their talents and skills in many different fields. In the 1928 March edition of the School Magazine the Principal reports, This week as many of you know has been principally devoted to Inter House competitions. All the pupils of the school excluding the Kindergarten are divided into four houses . For two or three weeks before the final competition each year our more formal time table is disorganised, and most of our time in school is spent doing individual or group work .Such work allows each girl to specialize in whatever subject most appeals to her. This was of very great importance in developing the personality of the girls and is in line with modern educational ideas.
During Southlands week, almost every girl was afforded an opportunity of displaying her skill and ability. In addition to the new extra mural activities to the school curriculum, she gave the students leadership positions to enable them to help the school management. Accordingly, in 1924, class captains were appointed to assist in the programme in Southlands Week. According to the programme published in the May 1924 edition of the Magazine, only the students in the upper school and the lower school took part in the Sports Meet. Inter-class competitions were conducted and class captains helped to organise the items. In 1927, taking another step forward with sports activities, a Sport Club was formed with the motto ”Play the Game”. Thereafter, the Sports Meet had been organised by the sports club and it was held in public grounds, the Victoria Park. In 1927, instead of class captains, four House Captains were appointed and the houses were named in honour of the four lady missionaries Ms. Westlake, Ms. Wiseman, Ms. Hunter and Ms. Hellier and each house was recognised by a special colour. According to the 1935 Jubilee Report by Miss Freethy, Miss F.S. Hay had organised the formation of the four houses in the school. Thus Miss Freethy guided the students to develop their leadership qualities further during their school carriers. Once the houses were organised, Miss Freethy introduced more competitions among the girls to score marks in different activities. The house marks were allotted for drama, sports, academic achievements, handwork, singing, drill and piano playing etc. Every House was able to win the award in four years time.
There was a rapid improvement in the school during this time. The number of students increased and the management realized the necessity for a larger assembly hall to house the children on special occasions. On 4th June 1927, Rev. A.E. Restarick opened the new hall at the Prize Distribution. A large gathering was comfortably accommodated for the event in the spacious hall. Miss Freethy spoke of the great effort taken to provide the hall and thanked all the Missionary personnel for their untiring efforts in providing the school with the biggest school hall in Galle. The Editorial of the College Magazine of August 1927 states, For the first time in the history of Southlands all the students were able to be present at the prize giving. Before this they had to be content . give up their seats ...to public.... the room was overcrowded.
During the first quarter of the 20th century, Southlands developed in academic fields as well as in extra curricular activities. Demand for the school and also for hostel accommodation was increasing and rented bungalows were still needed to solve the problem of housing boarders. The inconvenience of having boarders and staff in so many different places led to the conception of a need for a large hostel capable of housing a greater number of students and teachers.
Accordingly, the mission acquired a large house and garden adjoining the school and a three storied building was built and was declared open by the Governor of Ceylon Sir Herbert Stanley on March 28th 1930. It was named ”Resterick” Hostel in honour of Rev. A.E. Resterick, the School Manager and Chairman of the Methodist Church who had closely associated the school for many years.
Southlands College completed 50 years of satisfactory service to the nation in 1935. Students took advantage of all available facilities and the scholastic attainment during the first quarter of the 20t century seems to have impressed the teachers and principals and well-wishers. Many were able to enter the Medical College, University College, Teacher Training College and other fields for further studies mainly because the Principal Miss Freethy and her assistant Miss Ridge had the perceptive insight to guide the gifted students to the relevant field to follow higher studies after qualifying successfully in the Cambridge examinations.
Miss Freethy, in her Jubilee report states, Southlands had always been happy in its staff. The tradition of self-effacing service, once established, is being maintained by every teacher, and the heritage of the past is being enriched by the contribution which each fresh member brings.The children responding to the influence around them give of their best and the whole school revels in this chance of self expression.
The year 1935 became a significant year in the annals of the school when Southlands celebrated the Golden Jubilee in a very grand way. Miss Freethy organised a Pageant, specially produced for the Golden Jubilee Celebrations. It illustrated the origin of Southlands and also included a service of Christ and worship. A song in Sinhala was composed specially for the great event by Miss Beta. Wijesinghe The melody was one of Rabindranath Tagore’s compositions.
Miss Freethy paid special attention to Muslim students who had to stop their schooling at a very early stage. Muslim girls have attended Southlands since 1887. Miss Freethy was disappointed when they were compelled to leave school without completing their school carriers. She felt they needed further education if they were to make good wives and mothers. At this time Miss Jansz offered to educate the girls in their homes and for many years it was recognized by the Education Department. The subjects taught were English, Hygiene, Needlework, Drill according to syllabus laid down by the Government and Girl Guiding too was included. The value of such work arranged by Miss Freethy is incalculable and a large circle of Muslim students benefited due to her kind thoughts and concern for them.
Miss Freethy devoted her life to Southlands with dedication. Her memory will live for ever in the hearts of Southlanders. The Jubilee magazine states, ”Southlands without Miss Freethy is unthinkable”.