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Roehana Koeddoes: A Heroine of Education and Journalism

Roehana lived in the same era as Kartini, when Indonesian woman had restricted access to education. She was one of Indonesian women who fight for women emancipation. Her fight to improve Indonesian woman well being was not only through education, but also through journalism, she was the journalist who initiated Soenting Melajoe, a newspaper dedicated for women.

Roehana Koeddoes was born in Koto Gadang, Agam, West Sumatera on December 20, 1884. Her father was Mohamad Rasjad Mahardja Soetan and her mother was Kiam. Roehana was born in an intellectual and respected family, she was the step sister of Soetan Sjahrir -  the first prime minister of Indonesia, the aunt of Chairil Anwar - a famous poet,  and the cousin of H. Agus Salim - a freedom fighter.

As most girls in her era, Roehana did not go to school. Luckily, her father encouraged her to get knowledge by teaching her to write and read and providing her with reading material that he often brought home from his office. She was very intelligent and quick learner, at a young age she was able to write, read, and speak Dutch. She also learned Arabic, Latin, and Arabic-Malay. When she lived in Alahan Panjang, her neighbor was a Dutch family who was also her father’s superior. From the wife of the Dutch family she learned embroidery, sewing, and crocheting. There, she also read a lot of Dutch published magazines which contained European news of politics, life style and education.  

Roehana married to Abdoel Koeddoes at the age of 24. Roehanna kept doing her activities that she usually did before married such as reading, writing, and teaching women at her home. Her husband supported her activities. On February 11, 1911 Sekolah Kerajinan Amai Setia was founded. This school for women taught crafting, reading and writing, financial management, manners, and Dutch to women. The craft produced in her school was very good that it was exported to Europe. This business made Roehana’s school to be based on home industry and had the first cooperation with all women members in Minangkabau.

Roehana was not only an educator she was also a journalist. Upon her initiative, a newspaper for woman called Soenting Melajoe was published on July 1912. Soenting Melajoe was the first women newspaper which chief editor, editor, and writer are all women.  She was also the head of Perempuan Bergerak newspaper, the editor of Radio newspaper which was published by Chinese-Malay society, and a contributor of Cahaya Sumatra newspaper.

Her fight to educate women was not easy. She had to face disagreement from the traditional leaders and men society that considered women should not go to school like men and better handled the domestic activities only. She also had to fight against slander from her former student that accused her for corruption in her school, which later proved wrong. After this event, she moved to Bukit Tinggi and founded another women school called the “Roehana School” which was popular and had many students. She also taught in Dharma Putra School which students were men and women. In this school she taught sewing and embroidery, religion, manners, Dutch, politic, literature, and journalistic writing. In Dharma Putra she was the only teacher who had not graduated from formal education institution.

When Dutch increase their pressure to natives, Roehana joined the fight against Dutch by her writings that encouraged the youth to fight. She also initiated to build a public kitchen and social institution to support guerrillas fight. She also suggested the idea to smuggle weapons by hiding it in vegetables and fruit piles to be send to Payakumbuh by train.

Roehana died in Jakarta on August 17, 1972, in the age of 87 years old. She spend her entire life to learn and teach, fighting for woman education. She said, “The development of era will not make women to the same as men. Women will still be women with all their abilities and obligations. What should be changed is women should have education and better treatment. Women should be healthy body and soul, have good characters and manners, and diligently pray to god, which all of these will be obtained by having knowledge.”

Roehana Koeddoes received an award as the first Indonesian female reporter in 1974. In the third National Press Day in 1987, the Minister of Information Harmoko awarded her with the Pioneer of Indonesian Press Award. On November 6, 2007, the Indonesian government awarded her with Bintang Jasa Utama, the highest rank of service medal from Indonesian government.

(Source 1, Source 2)

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