Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr. Hajah Saleha Mohd. Ali was born on 29 January 1923 in Klang, Selangor. She received her early education at the age of 5 at Kampung Tengah Malay School, Klang. At the age of 6, she went to the Methodist Girls' School, Klang and studied at a Malay School on weekends. In the evenings , she learned the Quran. When her father moved to Kuala Lumpur, she continued her studies at the Kuala Lumpur Methodist Girls' School until standard three. She later studied at St. Mary ‘s Girls' School until the Senior Cambridge level.
She pursued a teacher-training course at the English Normal Teacher Training Centre, Kuala Lumpur from 1940 to 1941. While there, she was once assigned to be an English Teacher in Bukit Nenas Convent School and Kampung Baru Malay Girls' School in Kuala Lumpur.
During the Japanese occupation of Malaya, Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr. Hajah Saleha worked as her father's secretary as well as an interpreter for the Japanese Judge. In addition, she was active in music with the formation of "The Ali Sisters" trio who took part in radio entertainment programmes and performed at the Sulaiman Club, Kampung Baru.
After the Japanese occupation ended, she continued her duty as a teacher and taught at the Jalan Pasar School, Kuala Lumpur. In October 1946, she went to London by a flying boat to further her studies in Political Science and Economics at London School of Economics for four years. Her departure to England was a source of pride among the women since she was the first Malay woman to do further studies overseas under a government scholarship. The very interesting news about her journey from Malaya to England via the flying boat with was published in the Straits Times and Majlis newspapers in 1947/1948. She returned home in 1949 and served as an Assistant Social Welfare Officer of Selangor. She was also among one of the people responsible for the establishment of the Juvenile Court in 1951. In 1952, she migrated to and worked in Malacca. In 1953, she resigned as a Welfare Officer to be with her husband, Encik Mohd. Zain bin Ahmad, who worked in Perlis.
Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr. Hajah Saleha has been active in politics since the 1940's. She first introduced to politics through the encouragement of Dato 'Onn in 1946. She joined forces in all protest demonstrations against the Malayan Union and attended all three 1946 National Congresses. In the third National Congress in which UMNO was formed, she was the only woman who spoke at the rally where she represented the Women's Association of Selangor, the only association for Malay women that existed independently in Malaya then. In the speech, she urged women to stand united to fight against the Malayan Union. Between 1950 and 1953, she was elected to join the Selangor Executive Council. And in 1951, she was appointed as Vice President of Kampung Baru UMNO branch.
She was also active in social activities since her school days where she set up associations to assist the poor in the schools where she studied. In order to do charitable work, the Women's Association of Kuala Lumpur was established in 1939 with Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Saleha Hajah being one of the most active members. While studying in London she was also active in the Association of Malayan Students Union of Assistant Secretaries and she too was a member of the Malay Society of Great Britain.
She represented Malaya in a number of conferences in London and in Switzerland while overseas. Upon her return, she established the Malayan Youth Club in 1950. In addition, she was also a member of the Women's Institute in 1952 with Lady Templer, and she was appointed Secretary-General of the Women's Associations of the Malay Federation in 1958-1960. During her tenure, she took the initiatives to establish several branches of the Women's Associations in Malacca and Perlis while she remained active in the Red Cross and Girl Guides associations. When the declaration of Independence was held at Stadium Merdeka in 1957, Tan Sri Dato'Paduka Saleha Hajah was appointed as the Protocol Officer to Lady Gurney. In that same year, she was appointed as Chairperson of Selangor Moslem Women's Welfare Authority. She was the first woman to sit in Selangor's Public Services Commission from 1960 to 1970. Since 1968 until now, she is a Member of Islamic Affairs Council for the State of Selangor while from 1974 until present, she has been a member of the National Council for Islamic Affairs. In addition, she is also a member of the Advisory Board of National Unity from 1978 to present time. In 1983, she was appointed Chairperson of the Puteri Islam Association and the Chancellor of Help University College, The University of Archives.
In recognition of her contributions, Tan Sri Datuk Paduka Dr. Hajah Saleha was awarded with several medals such as Pingat Jasa Kebaktian (P.J.K) from the Selangor State Government. In 1966, she received the Pingat Ahli Mangku Negara (A.M.N) and subsequently Justice of Peace J.P in 1982, Bintang Darjah Paduka Mahkota Selangor (D.P.M.S) in 1985, an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Southern Queensland, Australia(1997) and Bintang Panglima Setia Mahkota (P.S.M) in 2004 by His Majesty the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong .
A Series of Narration of Women Personages in the Malaysian History
22 July 1985
National Archives of Malaysia