Tuesday, 18 January 2011

33. Dr Latifah Bee Ghows (1911-2005)

Dr Latifah Bee Ghows (1911-2005)

Date of birth: 1911
Place of birth: Taiping, Perak
Date of death: 11 October 2005
Place of death: Taiping Hospital, Taiping, Perak
Place of burial: Muslim Cemetery, Old Taiping Mosque

Latifah Bee was born in Taiping in 1911. She studied at Treacher Methodist Girls School in Taiping until she completed her senior Cambridge Exams. She then proceeded to Singapore. She studied at a college before studying medicine.

Undergraduate Medical Education
Latifah Bee then pursued medical studies at the King Edward VII Medical College in Singapore. However, her father decided to send her overseas. She left Singapore in 1937. Dr Latifah related her story to Professor Dato’ Dr Wazir Jahan Karim that she was on her way to study medicine at the University of Dublin but the Second World War broke out and she was stranded in Hong Kong. In May 1939, The Straits Times reported names of passengers who arrived in the P&O liner Carthage from Yokohama, Shanghai and Hong Kong.1 Among the passengers due for Penang was ‘Miss L. Ghows’.2

Japanese Occupation
During World War II, the Japanese army entered Hong Kong in 1941. At Hong Kong, Dr Latifah worked in the hospital until the war was over. She recollected bitter memories while at Hong Kong Hospital. The condition in Hong Kong became worse and in 1943, the British Government transferred foreign students from the University of Hong Kong to India. She stayed in India for a few months before she returned to Tanah Melayu. She returned to the University of Hong Kong after it was safe. Dr Latifah pursued her studies in medicine at the University of Hong Kong until she finally obtained her medical degree. Dr Latifah’s work at Hong Kong Hospital entitled her for the conferment of a medical degree. The British Colonial Government granted her a degree in medicine from the University of Hong Kong. Dr Latifah Bee Ghows graduated from the University of Hong Kong on 23 January 1942 with the MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree during World War II. 

Postgraduate Overseas Service and Studies
After she graduated as a medical doctor from the University of Hong Kong, Dr Latifah joined the Hong Kong Civil Hospital where she worked alongside British doctors from 1942 to 1945 (end of World War II). After the war, Dr Latifah returned to India for a few years to gain additional experience. Also after the war, Dr Latifah Bee Ghows left for England to further her studies. She went to Dublin for extra courses in public health. As she was a keen traveller, Dr Latifah Bee Ghows had gone to Australia and served for a few years. She was an alumnus of the University of Hong Kong in 1950.3

Government Service
Dr Latifah Bee Ghows returned to Malaya and joined the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital as a Medical Officer in March 1949. She worked for three years. She then shifted to the Malacca General Hospital. Dr Latifah went to England again shortly after to pursue postgraduate studies in Child Health (1954-55). After her postgraduate studies, Dr Latifah returned to Malaya in 1956 and served as a Senior Medical Officer at the Penang Municipal Council (Majlis Perbandaran Pulau Pinang, MPPP) for a few years until she retired in 1966. While in Penang, Dr Latifah lived at No. 2, Ariff Crescent in Green Lane.

Dr Latifah Bee Ghows retired from government service in 1966 as Senior Medical Officer in Penang. She had contemplated on quitting earlier on 17 April 1952, due to health reasons.4

First Muslim Woman Doctor in Malaya
Dr Latifah Bee bt Ismail Mohamad Ghows of Taiping became the first Muslim female doctor in Malaya when she graduated in January 1942 from the University of Hong Kong during World War II. She was the first Malayan Muslim female doctor to undertake undergraduate medical training at an overseas institution and the first to graduate during World War II. During her time, it was rare that females went overseas; they only studied locally. She was the first Malayan Muslim female doctor to undertake postgraduate training in England. 

Female Doctors at the Time of Merdeka
Among the Muslim female doctors at the time of Independence on 31 August 1957 were Dr Latifah Bee Ghows (UHK Class of January 1942), Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr Salma Ismail (KE VII Class of 1947), and Tun Dr Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali (UM Class of 1955).

Dr Latifah's parents were Dr Ismail Mohamad Ghows and Zohara Bee bt Shaik Nannameah Sahib, from Ipoh. Latifah Bee was born before her father went to Singapore to study medicine.  Latifah was the elder of two girls and the eldest of seven siblings. The sisters were Dr Latifah Bee and Datin Sharifah Bee. Her brothers were Hanif Ghows, Hashim Ghows, Rashid Ghows, Osman Ghows and Ismail Ghows. All her brothers were active and good sportsmen.

In her late seventies5 and eighties, Dr Latifah Bee Ghows had stayed at her sister’s house in Taiping. She was still alert and healthy as reported by a local historian, Mr DM Ponnusamy of Taiping.6  Dr Latifah Bee Ghows remained at Taiping Hospital in Perak since 5 October 2005. She had passed away at 2 am on Tuesday, 11 October 2005 at age 94 years. Dr Latifah Bee Ghows was laid to rest at the old Taiping Mosque (Masjid Lama Bandar Taiping) Muslim cemetery after zohor prayer. Her nephew, YBhg Dato’ Abdul Mutalib bin Razak, was among those who paid their last respects

Headstone of Dr Latifah Bee bt Ismail Ghows. She graduated with MBBS from the University of Hong Kong on 23 January 1942. She was Taiping's first female doctor. She was the first Indian Muslim and Malay female doctor in British Malaya and the Federation of Malaya. The headstone reads: Al-Fatihah. (In Jawi script) Doktor Latifah binti Ghows. Dr. Latifah bt. Ghows kembali ke Rahmatullah pada 8 Ramadhan 1426 (Hijrah) bersamaan 11.10.2005, umur 92 tahun. Amin. Note: Her age should be 94 on the headstone. She is written as Dr Latifah Bee Ghows (1911-2005) on page 516 in Biography of the Early Malay Doctors. She was hospitalised at Hospital Taiping since 5 October 2005 and passed away of old age at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, 11 October 2005, aged 94. She was interred here after Zohor prayer (refer page 520 in Biography of the Early Malay Doctors).
Pusara Dr Latifah Bee bt Ismail Ghows, Masjid Lama Bandar Taiping. Her nephew is Dato' Abdul Mutalib bin Razak. Dr Latifah's demise was published in the local newspaper - New Straits Times, Wednesday, 12 October 2005. The obituary was written by Mr D. M. Ponnusamy. During my visit to First Galleria, I was informed by the Senior Curator, Anuar Isa, that Mr D. M. Ponnusamy had also passed away, aged early 70s; his wife is still around. I have never met Mr D. M. Ponnusamy who contributed many photos and articles for Dr Latifah's biography in Biography of the Early Malay Doctors.

References and Notes

  1. Boyd Cable, A Hundred Year History of the P&O: Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, 1837–1937 (London, 1937), 218, 228
  2. The Straits Times, 19 May 1939, Page 4. Page 4. Miscellaneous Column 1.
  3. The Singapore Free Press, 13 February 1950, page 5. “H.K. University Alumni.”
  4. The Straits Times, 25 July 1952, page 7. “Why the doctor quit -Govt.”
  5. Utusan Malaysia
  6. Mr DM Ponnusamy had passed away by 2013.

    Author's files for Dr Latifah's biography in
    Biography of the Early Malay Doctors 1900-1957 Malaya and Singapore.