Bethune College, Kolkata

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About Bethune College

“The name of Bethune College was inextricably associated with higher education for Bengali women. Viewed in this light, no other women’s college in undivided Bengal could hold a candle to Bethune. If one were to compile a list of Bethune students at the end of nineteenth century and the first four decades of the twentieth, the result would be a who’s who of Bengali women of those times.”

Professor Sujata Chaudhuri of the Department of English, Bethune College and mother of Emeritus Professor Sukanta Chaudhuri, renowned academician, author and translator, once eulogized Bethune College in these terms. It is perhaps no exaggeration to state that Bethune College has played a pivotal role in the emancipation of women in India.

The alumnae of the College have shown their brilliance during the last century in diverse spheres of life. The institution which started with the founder John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune’s pioneering vision of producing ‘better wives and better mothers in their homes’ has, with the help of education, successfully enlightened generations of women to such a degree that they have emerged as triumphant empowered individuals in both home and the world. Pritilata Wadder, the famous freedom fighter of India, was a student of this College. Chameli Basu was the first Science student of this College and also the first woman Science Graduate of the University of Calcutta, followed by the eminent scientist Dr. Ashima Chatterjee, who holds the rare honour of being the First Indian woman to be conferred Doctorate of Science in 1944.

Bethune College has always prioritised pursuit of knowledge, which is not confined to the pages of a text book. Our illustrious alumnae from various spheres of life testify to this fact. Some of our alumnae like Kamini Roy, Sita Devi and Shanta Devi were distinguished writers. Shobha Sen, the legendary actress belonged to this College. Sarala Devi Chadhurani and Hironmayi Devi belonging to the illustrious Tagore family were students of this College. The celebrated danseuse Manjushree Chaki Sarkar was also a student of Bethune College.

Bethune School and its founder

John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune

John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune
( 1801-1851 )

The College owes its origin to John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune (1801 – 1851) who was born in Ealing, son of Colonel John Drinkwater Bethune of Salford, who had earned fame as the author of History of the Siege of Gibraltar. J.E.D Bethune was educated at Westminster School, graduated from Trinity College, University of Cambridge, and later qualified for the Bar to secure an administrative position in Parliament. He was proficient in Greek, Latin, German, French and Italian and also earned fame as a poet. In 1848, he was sent to India as Law Member of the Governor General’s Council. Besides his ordinary official duties he undertook the presidency of the Council of Education and took a keen interest in the education of women and the eradication of social evils.

He was deeply moved by the illiteracy and hence oppression of Indian women who urgently required education, awareness and the ability to voice their protest and solve their problems. He decided to devote himself to the cause of Indian women. With encouragement from and participation of like-minded social reformers like Ramgopal Ghosh, Raja Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee and Pandit Madan Mohan Tarkalankar, Bethune established Kolkata’s first school for girls in 1849 called the Hindu Female School, which later came to be known as Bethune School. Bethune passed away in 1851.


Establishment of Bethune College

In 1856, the Government took charge of the Hindu Female School, later renamed as Bethune School. The Managing Committee of the school was then formed and Pandit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, the celebrated social reformer responsible for the eradication of the custom of Sati and a relentless supporter of women’s emancipation was made the Secretary. In August 1878, Bethune School was amalgamated with Banga Maha Vidyalaya which was founded by Miss Annette Akroyd with the help of Durgamohan Das, Dwarka Nath Ganguly and Anandamohan Basu.

It was in 1878 that Bethune School had the honour of sending up the first woman candidate for the Entrance Examination of the University of Calcutta. When Kadambini Ganguly (nee Basu) cleared the examination, college classes were arranged for her in Bethune school to enable her to pursue her studies for the F.A. examination. This is how the College started. And for many years to follow, this College remained the only institution offering the scope of higher education for girls in India.

Kadambini Ganguly was joined by Chandramukhi Basu in 1881. Both women graduated in 1883 becoming the first female graduates of Calcutta University. Kadambini Ganguly joined Calcutta Medical College as the first Indian lady student and later became the first practicing lady doctor in India. Chandramukhi Basu joined Bethune College as Lecturer in English and later became the First Lady Principal of the Institution.

Development of Bethune College

The earliest courses to be introduced in the College were those of English and Sanskrit in 1917. Affiliation was extended to the College for catering to I.Sc. course in 1923 and Mathematics along with Philosophy was added to the list of Honours subjects during the same year. Now, with changing times, Bethune College has 11 undergraduate and 6 postgraduate departments.

The achievements of our students speak for themselves. Many of our students have topped University examinations; some have being awarded medals and prizes in sports and other competitions. The students are also involved in social activities through National Service Scheme befitting their social responsibilities.

The College has reached its high level of excellence due to the dedicated team work of the teaching, administrative and assisting staff members and also support and encouragement from the Governing Body and above all administrative and financial support from the Higher Education Department, Government of West Bengal. Reaccredited by NAAC in 2015 with the ‘A’, Bethune College has celebrated 140 long years of tireless striving for knowledge which enriches the mind and ennobles the soul.


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