MISS EDITH RIDGE (1935 - 1946 and 1950 -1956)
In 1929, Miss Edith Ridge, a young English trained graduate stepped on to the shores of Sri Lanka to be the Vice Principal of Southlands. She succeeded Miss Freethy in 1935 and served the school with much dedication for more than twenty years until she retired in 1956.
From 1929 to 1935 Miss Ridge worked under Miss Freethy and helped to develop the good work started by her upgrading the school in many more areas. She became Principal in 1935 and continued the great work initiated by Miss Freethy. She introduced more subjects to the educational curriculum upgrading the school to a more prestigious position.
Miss Ridge in her biography states, I am greatly indebted to Miss Mabel Freethy Miss Freethy was an inspiring Head who gave others confidence and shared responsibility with them.
During the Second World War Miss Ridge faced the major problem of evacuating the school to a safe area and cheerfully undertook the difficulties and discomforts of making a new temporary home for the school. In 1942 Southlands had to evacuate to Inland Hills, a coconut estate in Hirimbura. It belonged to an old girl, Louisa Weerasinghe, and pupils occupied the bungalow in the estate. Miss Ridge had to organise the school at Hirimbura. The school returned to the school premises in Fort in January 1945.
From 1947 to 1950 many ladies devoted their services as Principals of the school since family circumstances kept Miss Ridge away in England to be with her family during this period. Miss E. Hibbard (Mrs. F.O. Peak), Mrs. F.A. de S Adhihetti, and Miss E.W. Paranavithana acted for Miss Ridge until she returned from England in September 1950. Mrs F.A. De S. Adhihetti, a Bachelor of Arts, who was in the tutorial staff, became Principal in 1948 being the first Sinhala lady to be the head of the school. During the very short period she served, she did her best to develop the school and very efficiently steered the school through a difficult period. In order to improve the school finances, a committee was formed at her request. As a result of the effort a considerable amount of money was collected for the school fund. The money collected by Mrs. Adhihetti was used to augment the Ridge Building Fund.
A qualified Indian Home Economics Instructress, Thangam Philips was appointed to develop the Domestic Science section. Under Miss Philip’s tuition, Home Science was upgraded and became a popular subject. In 1948, Southlands was upgraded to a Secondary School. Unfortunately, Mrs. Adhihetti had to resign at this stage due to ill health. Services rendered by her during her period of office are outstanding.
Miss E.W. Paranavithana, a past pupil who had served in the tutorial staff as an assistant teacher for thirty years then succeeded Mrs. Adhihetti as a temporary Principal. She held office for one term. Miss. M.H. Taylor served as the Principal from May to September 1950. Miss Ridge held office for a further six years and during her tenure the school progressed and the number of students studying increased very rapidly.
In Miss Ridge’s second term of service, she introduced many new areas to develop the educational facilities in the school. Even though Physical training was included in the school curriculum from 1902 more development was visible in the field of sports when Miss Ridge introduced Miss Nalini de Silva, a Physical Instructress trained at the College of Physical Training, Saidapet, Madras, to develop the students athletic skills. Two major sports introduced in this era were athletics and Net Ball. Southlanders participated in many provincial tournaments and were able to bring honour to the College during this period. Miss Ridge supported all areas initiated by Miss Freethy and improved the quality of indigenous arts further. Realizing the importance of understanding the value of Sri Lankan culture, she appointed a qualified oriental dancing and music teacher Mr. Herman Perera from Payagala in 1955. Southlanders were now given the opportunity to learn Eastern music and Oriental dancing. An annual Sinhala stage play acted by the school children continued to be very successfully directed by him. When Sri Lanka received Independence in 1948 many economic and cultural changes were visible. Greater emphasis was laid on the Mother Tongue as the medium of instruction. Southlands entered the Free Education system in April 1951. Miss Ridge was aware of the future changes but still she wished to give the children a liberal education. Southlanders acquired good training in sportsmanship and leadership during this period. The school gained much fame in the field of Sinhala drama at this time. The play ”Nala Damayanthi” staged in Galle by Southlanders was a great success and for the first time the play was staged in Matara too.
When Miss Freethy retired from services the number of students in roll was 284. The rapid development which took place under Miss Ridge increased the student population to about 600 in 1952. When she retired in 1956 there were 667 in roll. The increase in numbers created the problem of accommodation in the school. Although Miss Ridge knew that school will be handed over to the government ultimately in keeping with the new educational policies of the government, she courageously embarked on an ambitious building scheme in order to find comfortable accommodation. She was aware of the future needs of the school far ahead of time. As a result of her efforts, on July 19th 1952, a foundation stone was laid for a new building. In 1954, a two storied building was successfully completed to house the increasing number of students. A year later, she completed the 3rd story of the building with the assistance given by all pupils and parents, past pupils, teachers and all well wishers. It was declared open in 1956 before her retirement and named the “Ridge Building” It was a great asset for the school. It comprised a large number of class rooms, an art room, a science laboratory, Principal’s quarters and the college office. This structure stands gracefully as a monument of Miss Ridge’s love and devotion for Southlands.
Southlands celebrated the 70th anniversary in a grand way on 30th July 1955. The birthday cake was an exact replica of the new Ridge building in miniature. There were 70 coloured candles on it. All present at the celebrations sang Happy Birthday to you while Miss Ridge cut the cake very happily. The Students presented a gift in money put into a decorated gift box; it was seventy coins or notes all gifted with love and gratitude to our Alma Mater. The ceremony concluded with a variety entertainment and a film show depicting the opening of the new building.
When Miss Ridge left Southlands in 1956, the school presented her with a beautiful bedspread. It was a unique gift. She loved it so much that she cherished and preserved very carefully until her demise. The magnificent bedspread gift was a product of the Home Economics department with the guidance given by the talented Home Science teacher with the help of her students. It recorded the names of 667 students within the coloured circles indicating their school houses along with their names and with the initials of the members of the staff in small red circles. School crest stood proudly embedded in the centre of the bedspread. It was finally completed into a beautiful bedspread by the past pupil Mrs. Wilhelmina Dantnarayana. Miss Ridge very thoughtfully requested her niece in the United Kingdom to return this unique bedspread to the school after her demise. She wished it to be deposited with other mementos of Southlands in the school archives. Southlands will always cherish and remember the glorious past and all achieved in Miss Ridge’s period of dedicated service.