Tan Sri Hjh Zainun or better known as Ibu Zain was born on 22 January 1903 in Kampung Nyalas, Melaka. She received her preschool education in Bandar Hilir and later at Methodist Girls' School, Melaka. Her service to the community began between 1916 to 1921 when she opened a School in Pasoh Jaya Waras, Selangor for boys and girls at her own expense. After her move to Muar, she was fully involved in matters of education and learning and has worked as an educator in various Government Girls' School in Johor.
Efficient and committed in education, she was promoted from time to time until she became the Johor State Girls' School Supervisor in 1927. Since then, more Girls' School was established in Johor as well as the establishment of the Johor Malay Women Teachers and Religion Association, in which she was President until her retirement. On her own auspices, the Association published a monthly magazine "Bulan Melayu" which contains specialised articles for women. Even with her busy schedule, she can still find the time to be involved in the Girl Guides Association and is the first Malay woman to join the association.
In her early 30s, she was involved in Arabic, Religious and Quranic Interpretation Education. At the age of 30 she performed the haj pilgrimage to Mecca and married to Amin bin Haji Ahmad in 1934. They were blessed with three children; Adibah, Fadzilah and Sulaiman Shakib.
Her involvement in women's education and learning spurred her to form a Higher Education charity fund for Malay Girls of the Peninsula with the intention that the Malay College for Girls may be established. Finally she managed to set up Kolej Puteri Tunku Ampuan Mariam in 1948 with her as the principal.
As a mother, she raised her children with the view that education is a priority for an individual and thus they are educated and brought up to emphasise education for this world and hereafter. Education and learning is the core of Ibu Zain and she devoted her all for it. Her children were the most intelligent and clever at school to the tertiary level; achieving great success in life. They were not only able to master the subjects but also in the areas of language, literature and writing. Ibu Zain who has always prioritised women's education could also be proud of the success and progress of her own children especially of her own daughters.
She began involving herself in politics in 1945 after being invited by Datuk Onn bin Jaafar to unite women in Johor Bahru, which eventually led to the establishment of the Peninsula Women's Movement Organisation. In 1948 she was appointed as a member of the Johor State Legislative Assembly. She was appointed as Head of the Women's Wing of Malaya in 1950 at the UMNO General Assembly in Kuala Kangsar.
She was also involved in writing and wrote articles for the "Guru" and "Bulan Melayu" magazine. In November 1954, Ibu Zain attended the Congress of Malay and Indonesian Literature held in Medan, Sumatra. In 1956, she was elected as the Vice Chief of Malaya Women's Southern Division in addition to being the head of the Women's Wing in Johor. She was also a member of the Supreme Committee, the Malaya UMNO Women's Wing Medal in 1957.
Ibu Zain was also actively involved in voluntary organisations such as the Girl Guides Association and has represented Malaya in a Jamboree. During the Malaysia – Indonesia confrontation in 1963, Ibu Zain registered as a volunteer soldier.
As recognition of Ibu Zain's contribution to these fields, she was conferred with various stars and titles. These include the Pingat Ibrahim Sultan (PIS) by the Sultan of Johor in 1947 which she was the first woman to receive the medal. She was conferred the JMN by His Majesty the Yang di Pertuan Agong in 1957 and was awarded the Tokoh Guru in 1957 in conjunction with Teacher's Day, Lady of Burma from the Burmese government, Tun Fatimah Medal (1974) from the National Council of Women's Organisations Malaysia and in 1975 was awarded an Honorary Master of Arts Degree by Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.
In 1979, Ibu Zain was conferred the Darjah Kebangsaan Panglima Sri Mahkota which carries the title Tan Sri from the fifth SPB Yang Di Pertua Agong, Almarhum Sultan Yahya Petra Ibni Almarhum Sultan Ismail. In 1980 she was awarded the Suluh Budiman award and in 1982, she received the title Tokoh Sastera and then Tokoh Pendidikan in 1983.
Historical Narration series- Women in the History of Malaysia
28 January 1984
National Archives of Malaysia.
*Ibu Zain passed away on 2 April 1989 due to stomach cancer