Thursday, August 15, 2013

The origin of female education in India

The Calcutta Review, in its edition of July, 1855, has this interesting story on the origin of ‘native female education in India”.  ( source. page 164)

"It was somewhere about 1818 or 1819, that a Society, called, we believe, the Union School Society, was formed in Calcutta, for educational purposes. Shortly after its formation, its members, encouraged by the success that had attended their operations amongst the boys, determined to make an attempt in the direction of female education. 
At the invitation of this Society Miss Cooke came to Calcutta, having been selected for this most difficult service, if we have been rightly informed, and our memory serve us aright, by the celebrated Richard Cecil, whose admirable sagacity was never more distinctly manifested than in this selection. Miss Cooke arrived in Calcutta in May. 1821.. We have stated that she came on the invitation of a certain educational society ; but on her arrival, it appeared that the native members of the Committee of that Society, although they had spoken well -while yet the matter was at a distance and in the region of theory, recoiled from the obloquy of so rude an assault on time-honored custom. 

"The babus had been brought up to the talking-point, but not to the acting-point. An arrangement was however entered into with the Church Mission Society, and Miss Cooke began her operations under their auspices. An account of the commencement of these operations is given by Mrs. Chapman, in her little work on Female Education ; and we are sure that we shall gratify our readers by extracting it at length: 
'Whilst engaged in studying the Bengali language, and scarcely daring to hope that an immediate opening for entering upon the work, to which she had devoted herself, would be found, Miss Cooke paid a visit to one of the native schools for boys, in order to observe their pronunciation ; and this circumstance, trifling as it may appear, led to the opening of her first school in Thunthuniya. 
Unaccustomed to see a European lady in that part of the native town a crowd collected round the door of the school. Amongst them was an interesting looking girl, whom the school pundit drove away. Miss Cooke desired the child to be called, and by an interpreter asked her if she wished to learn to read. She was told in reply, that this child had for three months past been daily begging to learn to read with the boys, and that if Miss Cooke ( who had made known her purpose of devoting herself to the instruction of native girls) would attend next day, twenty girls should be collected. 

Accompanied by a female friend, conversant with the language, she repeated her visit on the morrow and found fifteen girls, several of whom had their mothers with them. Their natural inquisitiveness prompted them to enquire what could be Miss Cooke's motive for coming amongst them. They were told that she had heard in England, that the women of their country were kept in total ignorance, that they were not taught to read or write, that the men only were allowed to attain any degree of knowledge, and it was also generally understood that the chief obstacle to their improvement was that no females would undertake to teach them ; she had therefore felt compassion for them, and had left her country, her parents and friends, to help them. 

The mothers with one voice cried out, smiting themselves with their right hands, "Oh what a pearl of a woman is this!" It was added, she has given up every earthly expectation, to come here, and seeks not the riches of the world, but desires only to promote your best interests.''Our children are yours, we give them to you.' 'What will be the use of learning to our girls, and what good will it do to them?'  She was told 'It will make them more useful in their families, and increase their knowledge, and it was hoped that it would also tend to give them respect, and produce harmony in their families''True (said one of them) our husbands now look upon us as little better than brutes.' Another asked, 'What benefit will you derive from this work !' She was told that the only return wished for, was to promote their best interest and happiness. Then said the woman, 'I suppose this is a holy work, and well-pleasing to God.'
As they were not able to understand much, it was only said in return that God was always well-pleased that his servants should do good to their fellow-creatures. The women then spoke to each other, in terms of the highest approbation, of what had passed." 
"In the course of the first year eight schools were established, attended, more or less regularly, by 214 girls. 
"Two or three years after Miss Cooke's arrival in India, she became the wife of the Rev. Isaac Wilson, a Missionary of the Church Mission Society ; but she did not relax in her afforts in behalf of the good cause . Mrs. Wilson's efforts were, now directed to the obtaining of the means of erecting a suitable building for a Central School. In order to do this, it was found necessary to establish a special Society for Native Female Education.
This Society was established in the beginning of 1824. Funds were raised, and on the 18th of May, 1826, the foundation stone of the Central School, in Cornwallis Square, was laid. 
In connection with this building, we must not omit to notice the extraordinary munificence of a native gentleman, the Rajah Buddinath Roy, who subscribed the very large sum of 20,000 Sicca Rupees, or upwards of £2,000 sterling, towards the erection. We believe this donation for a great patriotic object, is to this day unrivalled in the annals of native liberality ; and it is properly commemorated by the following inscription on a marble tablet, inserted into the wall of the principal hall in the institution: 

“This Central School, Founded by a Society of Ladies, For the Education of Native Female Children,was greatly assisted by A liberal donation of Rs. 20,000, from RAJAH BUDDINATH ROY BAHADUR ;and its objects further promoted and funds saved by Charles Knowles Robinson, Esq.,Who planned and executed this building, 1828.


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