Susan George Pulimood - respected in academic circles
The year 1945 marked a turning point in the educational and therefore
in the social history of the country. The Free Education Bill was passed
in the State Council in 1945. It was an exciting year, with much debate
on the feasibility of giving every child in the country a free education
from kindergarten to university.
It was in this year that a woman of great vision and tremendous
energy, Mrs. S.G. Pulimood, came to the helm of Visakha Vidyalaya. The
school, founded in 1917, had eight Principals in the 28 years before
Susan George Pulimood
Susan George Pulimood, a graduate of Presidency College, Madras, and
the co-author of ‘A Text-book of Botany’, joined Visakha Vidyalaya as a
teacher 67 years ago in January 1941.
Born on July 23, 1907, as the third daughter of K C Joshua, a
magistrate and later District Judge in the State of Travancor, Susan
Joshua had her secondary education in Baker Memorial School in Kottayam.
The Joshuas belonged to the oldest Christian community in India, the
From Baker Memorial School, to Queen Mary’s College and to Presidency
College where she obtained her Master’s degree in Botany. Keen to be a
teacher she joined Wellington Training College and got her Licientiate
Being full of fun and with her keen sense of humour, Susan Joshua was
very popular among her fellow students. She took an active part in
sports and athletics and did well in tennis and long-jump.
She taught in a girls school in Tamil Nadu for a few years before
coming to Sri Lanka. Mrs. Pulimood taught at Moratu Vidyalaya and one
other school before joining the staff of Visakha Vidyalaya.
The day she took up her appointment must have been very auspicious
both for Mrs. Pulimood and for Visakha, for on that day began a long and
rewarding association between a school struggling for ‘her place in the
sun’, and a dedicated educationist. Her 22 years as Principal were years
of achievement and fulfillment for both Mrs. Pulimood and Visakha
First as a staff member, then as head of the Bandarawela branch of
Visakha. In the war years, as acting Principal and in her early years as
Principal, before the load of administrative work left no time for
teaching, she taught Botany, her forte, Mathematics and English
Literature. Inspite of administrative work which increased with the
years, she found time to coach her students for Quiz Contests,
Oratorical Contests, Spelling Bee Contests and other such inter school
activities. When she took over as Principal in 1945, Mrs Pulimood
realized that Sinhala girls had more to do than sit on a cushion and sew
a fine seam. Herself a graduate in science, she saw the professional
opportunities a science education offered. While some girls’ schools
were forging ahead, Visakha was ill-equipped to give that education to
Thanks to her foresight and her venturing spirit, Visakha Vidyalaya
was able to have a science stream without which the school would have
fallen to the rear among the country’s schools. In this venture she had
the whole-hearted support of the Manager N E Weerasuriya QC.
It was easier equipping a laboratory than finding teachers, for there
were very few women with degrees in science in the late 40s. Mrs.
Pulimood had one of two alternatives - employing male graduates or
getting down qualified women teachers from India. She chose the latter,
making herself the target of wicked comments and accusations that she
was helping her kith find jobs. Undaunted she went ahead.
Rites and rituals
The students in the science classes in the early years will swear by
those teachers, Ms. Kurien, Ms. Abrahams,Ms.Banu,they were the pioneers
who laid the foundation for Science education at Visakha, which gave the
school the momentum to reach super-grade, and become the prestigious
school it is. By the mid 50s ‘parents stood in queues to enter their
children, both to the school and the hostel’.(N E Weerasooriya, Swarna
New buildings were constructed to house the increasing numbers. The
new administrative and science block built on land bought from the
adjoining Kathiresan Temple was opened in early 1959, followed by the
starting of a second Nursery School in the newly acquired house in
Vajira road, the residence of the late Justice A E Kueneman. The next
addition was the Gitanjali Amarasuriya Memorial Library, a gift to the
school from Mr. and Mrs. H. W. Amarasuriya in memory of their youngest
“All that the school now needs is a hall”, she used to muse. It was
Mrs. Pulimood’s dream to equip Visakha Vidyalaya with a hall in keeping
with her prestige, and to collect funds for a hall she organized the
seven day ‘Swarna Jayanthi’ carnival in the Old Race Course grounds in
February 1967. Never has a school had a carnival as gay and grand as
Jeremias Dias Hall
Mrs. Pulimood retired in July 1967, 24 years to the day, leaving
Rs.250,000 in the Swarna Fund. It took 15 years to build the hall.
Although Mrs. Pulimood was of another faith, the study and practice
of Buddhism in the school in her time was real, not perfunctory
observance of rites and rituals. Mrs. Pulimood was held in high esteem
in academic circles and she was appointed to the University Senate. She
was also, for a time, President of the University Women’s Federation.
Her textbook of Botany was the standard text used in schools throughout
the country until O-Level and A-Level students switched over to the
Sinhala medium. Mrs. Pulimood left Sri Lanka in December 1967,
presumably to enjoy a well earned rest, but retirement was not for
someone with as active a mind as Mrs. Pulimood’s.
She got involved in various projects and in the mid 70s took up the
post of Director of Jawarhar Vidyalaya in Ashok Nagar, Madras. She
visited Sri Lanka thrice after her retirement, first to felicitate two
retiring teachers, Mrs. Pearl Weerasinghe and Mrs. Marie Hewavisenthi,
who had served under her, and again in 1977 for the school’s Diamond
Jubilee. Her last visit was in October 1983 to see the fulfillment of
her cherished dream - the opening of the Jeremias Dias Hall.
She longed to visit Sri Lanka again to meet her former students and
visit old friends, but she was prevented by the troubles on both sides
of the Palk Strait.
She passed away peacefully in the early hours of April 12, 1989, in
her home in San Thome, Madras.
S. S. (A pupil in her first Botany class in 1941)