New book features Mr Lee Kuan Yew's pioneering aunt

FORMER Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew is known by many to be a pioneer in Singapore politics, but few know that his aunt was also ahead of women in her time.

Dr Lee Choo Neo became the first female doctor here in 1919 - a time when few women went to school, let alone university.

She opened her own clinic specialising in maternity care, and her services were popular as mothers-to-be in those days were not comfortable with having their babies delivered by male doctors.

An avid tennis player, she also wrote an article for a London publication when she was just 18 years old about the life of a Chinese girl in Singapore.

Her brother, Mr Lee Chin Koon, is Mr Lee Kuan Yew's father. She died of a heart attack at the age of 52 in 1947.

She is one of many women featured in a new book by the Chinese Women's Association (CWA), which marks its 100th anniversary this year.

The oldest women's group here, it organises social activities for its members and raises funds for various charities.

The 304-page coffee table book, 100 Fabulous Years, features stories about each of the association's 23 founding members, including Dr Lee, as well as its past presidents and achievements.

It was launched yesterday at the National Museum of Singapore where Ms Ho Ching, wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, was guest of honour.

Many of the founding members were from prominent families and the book also has articles about the members' fathers and husbands.

CWA president Betty Chen said: "We all talk about how far-sighted Lee Kuan Yew was. His grandfather was equally so."

Dr Lee's father encouraged her to study medicine.

Mrs Chen told The Straits Times: "If her father did not pay for her education and support her, how could she have done it?"

Mrs Chen said it was important to produce such a book.

"I know many of the members personally, so I have to set this record down before I go, otherwise nobody else will remember," said the 88-year-old, whose mother was the CWA's president for 28 years at various times.

She hopes young women who read the book will be inspired to contribute to the community.

Yesterday, Ms Ho also toured an exhibition titled Leading Ladies: Women Making A Difference. It honours efforts of Singapore's women pioneers who were active in community work.

Jointly organised by the National Museum of Singapore, where it is held, and the CWA, the free exhibition opens today and runs until June 21.

The book costs $100. All sales proceeds will go to charity.

To get a copy, call CWA on 6253-2912.

This article was first published on Apr 9, 2015.
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