Checha Davies



Checha Davies, also known as Mrs. E. V. Davis (b. 1898, Kerala, India–d. 2 September 1979, Singapore), was a social worker, women’s activist and community volunteer. She was prominent in various organisations, including the trailblazing Singapore Council of Women which fought for women’s civil rights, and the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), where she ensured the successful completion of its Fort Canning Road hostel.1

Early life
Davies was the daughter of Methodist lay preacher T. D. George.2 She followed him in this activity, and lectured at a college in Madras after receiving bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics and English history. In 1925, she gave up her teaching career and moved to Singapore with her school teacher husband, E. V. Davies, to start a family. However, she remained active in the church and voluntary sectors.


Major accomplishments
Davies often preached at the Tamil Methodist Church in Singapore, and lectured abroad on speaking tours. These took her to Europe, the Middle East, and North and South America, and included a four-month tour of the United States during which she gave talks every week. The US tour was undertaken at the invitation of the Methodist Church of America for missionaries in Asia. Davies also attended international meetings such as the World Missionary Conference in Madras in 1938.4

Davies’s interest in travel was reflected in a book exploring India and Ceylon, which she co-authored for classroom use. In 1931, she founded Singapore’s first Indian ladies’ club, the Indian-Ceylonese Club, later called the Lotus Club.5 Despite its well-heeled membership, the club had no permanent premises and met in the YWCA, of which Davies was a member.6 After the Japanese Occupation (194245), the Lotus Club merged with its less affluent rival, the Ladies’ Union, to form the Kamala Club. In the post-war period, Davies was also a founding member of the Singapore Inner Wheel Club for the wives of Rotarians, and helped with the Samaritans of Singapore.7 

Campaigning for women’s rights
After liberation and the restoration of British rule, there were hopes that the reconstruction of Singapore society would ameliorate the deplorable conditions in many women’s lives. In late 1951, Davies was invited by Shirin Fozdar, who had campaigned in India and worked with the League of Nations on women’s rights, to consider how to address these problems at a gathering of representatives of various women’s groups. This meeting gave rise to the Singapore Council of Women, and Davies sat on the committee that authored the council’s constitution. The council, launched formally on 4 April 1952, was different from other contemporary women’s organisations which performed charity work or taught traditional skills and crafts. Instead, it sought to foster friendship between women of all races, and campaigned to improve women’s economic, educational and social status in the colony. Davies served on its executive committee and, with Fozdar, drafted the appeal to the governor to grant Singapore women the same legal protection and rights as women in Britain.8

In 1961, the Legislative Assembly passed the Women’s Charter, meeting many of the council’s demands, including a ban on polygamy for non-Muslims. With this, and Fozdar’s departure from Singapore, the council lost momentum and was dissolved in 1971.9

Legacy to the YWCA
The other organisation in which Davies played a leading role was the YWCA, which she had joined as a teenager.10 From the 1930s, she networked with YWCA branches in other countries during her extensive travels.11 She served as president of the Singapore YWCA from 1960 to 1964 and again from 1966 to 1968, but it was while chairing the building committee that she demonstrated exceptional initiative and selflessness.12

In the late 1960s, the association’s largest project was the building of a six-storey hostel on Fort Canning Road for women on low income or travelling with young children. The committee discovered that the association could only afford four storeys and was amending the building plans with the contractors, when Davies proposed that members donated one dollar for each pound they weighed. When this generated enough funds for the two remaining floors but not a lift, she sold her house in Johor and thus raised the extra funds needed.13 The hostel, which opened in 1969, gave the association a new base and generated income through rent.14 For this and other services rendered to Singapore over the years, Davies was awarded the Bintang Bakti Mashrakat, or Public Service Star, in the National Day honours of 1970.15 

Davies’s humour and generosity were missed, and a gap was created in Singaporean civic society when she died of cancer on 2 September 1979.16 Her contributions were recalled and acknowledged in 2014 when the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations inducted her into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame.17

Publications
Davies, E. V., & Davies, C. (1937). A visit to India and Ceylon [Microfiche: MFC 0008/040-1]. Singapore: Malaya Publishing House.


Family18
Husband: Edward Vethanayagam Davies (d. 1963) was a  teacher, headmaster, chief inspector of schools and a city councillor. 
Children: Daughters, Shanta Sundram and Sushila Devi, and adopted son, Mohan.
Grandchildren/great-grandchildren: Four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren in 1979.



Author

Duncan Sutherland



References
1. Lam, J. L. (Ed.). (1993). Voice and choices: The women’s movement in Singapore. Singapore: Singapore Council of Women’s Organisation and Singapore Baha’i Women’s Committee, pp. 90, 98. (Call no.: RSING 305.42095957 VOI); Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. (n.d.). Singapore women’s hall of fame: Checha Davies. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/the-inductees/10-advocacy-activism/3-checha-davies; Pioneer social worker dies. (1979, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. (n.d.). Singapore women’s hall of fame: Checha Davies. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/the-inductees/10-advocacy-activism/3-checha-davies
3. Cheong, S. (1979, October 8). Woman of laughter: Tribute to a very special lady – Checha Davies. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. (n.d.). Singapore women’s hall of fame: Checha Davies. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/the-inductees/10-advocacy-activism/3-checha-davies
4. Cheong, S. (1979, October 8). Woman of laughter: Tribute to a very special lady – Checha DaviesThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. (n.d.). Singapore women’s hall of fame: Checha Davies. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/the-inductees/10-advocacy-activism/3-checha-davies
6. Lim, J., & Raveentheram, P. (Interviewers). (2002, May 9). Oral history interview with Mangalesvary Ambiavagar [MP3 recording no. 002367/02/01]. Retrieved from National Archives of Singapore website: http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/
7. Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. (n.d.). Singapore women’s hall of fame: Checha Davies. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/the-inductees/10-advocacy-activism/3-checha-davies
8. Chew, P. (1999). The Singapore Council of Women and the women’s movement. Singapore: Association of Women for Action and Research, pp. 1–5, 10–13. (Call no.: RSING 305.42095957 CHE)
9. Chew, P. (1999). The Singapore Council of Women and the women’s movement. Singapore: Association of Women for Action and Research, pp. 25–26. (Call no.: RSING 305.42095957 CHE)
10. Cheong, S. (1979, October 8). Woman of laughter: Tribute to a very special lady – Checha DaviesThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Arora, M. (2007). Small steps, giant leaps: A history of AWARE and the women’s movement in Singapore. Singapore: Association of Women for Action and Research, p. 45. (Call no.: RSING 305.42095957 SMA)
12. Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. (n.d.). Singapore women’s hall of fame: Checha Davies. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/the-inductees/10-advocacy-activism/3-checha-davies
13. Young Women’s Christian Association. (1995). YWCA: 120 years. Singapore: Young Women’s Christian Association, pp. 96–97. (Call no.: RSING 267.59597 YOU)
14. Davies, C. (1969). The well-nigh 100 years of the Y in Singapore. In Fourth ideal home exhibition programme. Singapore: YWCA, p. 19. Retrieved from PublicationSG.
15. Singapore. Government gazette. (1970, August 9). (G.N. 2507, p. 3036). National Day honours. Singapore: [s.n.]. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 SGG-[HIS])
16. Cheong, S. (1979, October 8). Woman of laughter: Tribute to a very special lady – Checha DaviesThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations. (n.d.). Singapore women’s hall of fame: Checha Davies. Retrieved 2016, September 28 from Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame website: http://www.swhf.sg/the-inductees/10-advocacy-activism/3-checha-davies  
18. Pioneer social worker dies. (1979, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 9; Cheong, S. (1979, October 8). Woman of laughter: Tribute to a very special lady – Checha DaviesThe Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Morais, J. V. (Ed.). (1957). Leaders of Malaya and who’s who 1957–58. Kuala Lumpur: J. V. Morais, p. 158. (Call no.: RCLOS 920.0595 LEA)



The information in this article is valid as at 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

Subject
Personalities
Davies, Checha, 1898-1979
Volunteers--Singapore--Biography
Women civil rights workers--Singapore--Biography
Community leaders
Personalities>>Biographies>>Community Leaders
People and communities>>Social problems
Community and Social Services
Law and government>>Culture and community>>Social services
Women social workers--Singapore--Biography