Puan Sri Puteh Mariah (1914-2006). Born in 1914 in Teluk Intan, Perak, Puteh Mariah started her public service in the 1940s going into the streets and helping families who suffered the ravages of war. Her experience in outreach work, bringing food, clothing and medical supplies for those in need, changed her outlook in life; she decided “could not afford to be an outsider anymore” but instead “became an activist”*. A pioneer in many different ways, she was the first head of Kaum Ibu (the precursor to Wanita UMNO), which she co-founded in 1949. She left UMNO to help form Parti Negara with Dato’ Onn Jaafar and became the first woman to hold the highest post in a political party as the Secretary General of Parti Negara in 1956. Puteh Mariah was also one of the first women nominated to the Federal Legislative Council, serving from 1948-1955. In the Legislative Council, she fought for education opportunities for Malayans, better wages for local teachers and wage equality for women. She was, in particular, a strong champion for the education rights for women. In 1950, she was appointed as a Justice of the Peace, the first woman to be conferred this honour in the Federation. Post-independence, she continued to be active in social work, serving many different committees, including the Central Welfare Council, the Children’s Welfare Council, and she was also the first local President of the Girl Guides Association of Malaya.
* New Straits Times, 3 August, 1987.