History of 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
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.
From the Principal's Desk
Bethune College, Kolkata, holds the singular distinction of being Asia's first women's college and this unique position is due to its glorious past and continuous association with women's education, societal struggles and their empowerment. In the field of Higher Education this is a rare achievement as this institution has been the forerunner amongst other educational institutions.
I consider this an acknowledgment of
my administrative capabilities and
able leadership that I was offered
and have taken up the position of
Principal of Bethune College, with
much anticipation and great
It is necessary to reiterate that Bethune College is Asia's first women's college and this fact has many implications in view of its continuing success in the field of Higher education today. History teaches us that perseverance and dedication leave their footprints in the sands of time. Worldwide women's movements with respect to enfranchisement and education of women in the 1980's and 90's saw many changes in the global scenario. A large part of Europe and America brought forth governmental policies in favoring incentives to women's Higher education. The education sector in India also responded with many efforts to ensure women's visibility in all walks of life, medicine and administration being foremost among them. With a deep sense of pride we invoke the glorious past of Bethune College, particularly its history of being set up as the first institute of its kind in 1879.
The institution has produced doctors, scientists, litterateurs, journalists, public servants, sportspersons, performing artists, and administrators; in short, women have found a nurturing soul for their ambitions in Bethune college, which is a rare feat given that in society women in the past had to struggle for prominence much more than they have to, today.
From Bethune College emerged the first two lady graduates of British Empire, the historical figures of Dr. Kadambini Ganguly and Prof. Chandramukhi Basu, who later joined her alma mater as its first Principal. That historically the college has been producing icons of women's empowerment can be seen from the long list of its successful ex-students. We can mention only a few- Pritilata Waddedar, the first female martyr of India's freedom struggle, Jyotirmoyee Ganguli, the first woman councillor of the Calcutta Corporation, Ila Sen, the first Bengali woman to be selected for participation in Olympic Games, the first Woman D.Sc, Prof Asima Chatterjee, and the first woman D.Litt of Calcutta University, Dr. Sabita Mishra.
A hundred and forty one year journey during which Bethune College has maintained excellence in its performance through continuous updation of the teaching-learning process, innovative research pursuits and stringent academic standards. Awarded the Grade 'A' twice, in 2006 & 2015, by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC), the College was granted the status of College with Potential for Excellence by the UGC. Recently, the institution has been honoured with the DBT Star status as a recognition of its relentless struggle for excellence and experimentation in the field of science. Satisfied with the performance of the science departments of our college, the Department of Science & Technology(DST), Govt. of India has sanctioned a considerable amount of funding under the DST-FIST programme in 2019 The college also received grants of substantial amounts under the Rashtriya Ucchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) for infrastructural and IT development.
Faculty of this college excel in the teaching-learning process as well as research. Continuous student-teacher interaction and assessment ensure that students form a meaningful educator-educatee relationship with the teacher and are motivated to perform in any platform under their supervision.
The Alumni Association of the institution which is 99 years old, works in a symbiotic manner with the college for the enrichment and progression of the students. With generous help and encouragement as well as administrative and financial assistance from the Department of Higher Education, Government of West Bengal and constant cooperation from all the stakeholders, Bethune College has played a major role in contributing to the cause of women in the country, producing empowered and enlightened individuals.
The college believes in balancing
tradition and modernity in such a
way that the two can co-exist
without contradictions, by
continuously updating its
value-based education system while
being firmly rooted in its heritage.
The core mission of the institution
is increasing scope and
diversification of knowledge,
utilizing them to the betterment of
society, especially fast tracking
women's education so that they
become psychologically and
economically self-sufficient, which
is a necessary step towards autonomy
and independence from limiting
factors. To this effect, the college
offers quality education with a low
fee structure. Overall, the aim of
the college in which it has acquired
unprecedented success is in helping
women realise their highest
potential and working towards it
without fear. Bethune college thus
carries forward the Indian legacy of
multidisciplinary studies. Francis
Bacon, the great Renaissance
Humanist said, "Abeunt studia in
mores" meaning that "Studies pass
into character", and our students,
who excel in all walks of life,
certainly prove the truth of this
In pursuance of the NAAC Peer Team's recommendation for performance evaluation, assessment and accreditation and quality up-gradation, an Internal Quality Assurance Cell (IQAC) was established on 29th November 2006 as a post-accreditation quality sustenance measure. Keeping in mind that quality enhancement is a continuous process, the IQAC became an integral part of the Institution's system striving towards realisation of the goals of quality enhancement and sustenance. The IQAC of Bethune College has prioritized development of a system for conscious, consistent and catalytic improvement in its overall performance. For this, during the post-accreditation period, it has channelized all efforts and measures of the Institution towards promoting its holistic excellence. Read more
It provides aids to strengthen teaching and research facilities in all Science departments of the college especially postgraduate departments. The grant is given for purchase of equipment as well as improvement of infrastructure (not construction but facilities like e-learning lab, networking etc). Sanctioned amount Rs. 1 crore only, Ref: SR/FST/College/065/2011(C) dated 16.5.14
Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan (RUSA) is a Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS), launched in 2013 that aims at providing strategic funding to eligible State Higher Educational Institutions. The funding to states is based on the critical appraisal of State Higher Education Plans, which would describe each state's strategy to address issues of equity, access and excellence in higher education.
The Union human resource development ministry has sanctioned Rs 2 crore each to 58 state-aided colleges in Bengal under RUSA for development of higher education in the state.
Under this scheme, 58 colleges in West Bengal have received Rs 50 lakh as the first instalment of funding under the Rashtriya Uchchatar Shiksha Abhiyan. Bethune College is foremost among the colleges to have been selected for this programme.
The selected colleges are required to spend the Rs 2-crore grant under three heads that include creation of new facilities, modernisation of laboratories, renovation and expansion of existing buildings, procurement of equipment such as computers and purchase of books and journals to upgrade libraries.
Impact of RUSA Support and Best Practices (DOCUMENTATION ON OUTCOME OF 3 YEARS OF RUSA)
RUSA Support for Bethune College
As a college that was established primarily
because a student wanted to study further, Bethune
College, has always had students at its core,
defining and distinctively shaping an institution of
national repute in its long journey of 141 years.
Students, past and present, give to this heritage
institution its unique character.
Bethune College Alumni Association, Sammilani, an autonomous body, has always taken a keen interest in the activities of the College and extends its best efforts for the betterment of the Institution and its learners. The members, besides coming up with ideas about the welfare and upliftment of the College, also come forward with financial assistance whenever needed and participate in the cultural and academic activities of the college. Alumni website: www.bethunesammilani.org
One of the key contributions of the Alumni Association of Bethune College has been making it possible for Calcutta University to recognize Chandramukhi's rare achievement of being the first woman passing the F.A. Examination in 1877. Again, Pandit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar's gift, the signed copy of Collected Works of Shakespeare, was traced in Dehradun, the ancestral home of Smt Chandramukhi Basu and restored to Bethune College in 2015 by the members of Sammilani.
In the recent past, we have past students like Dr Aditi Sen De and Dr. Neena Gupta who have won the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize. Our students achieve several ranks at the University level examinations every year, carrying forward the legacy of their illustrious seniors. They excel in Sports, Priyadarshini Das, an ex student, being a National Level Table Tennis Player.
The college that was established with a vision of empowering women with education has indeed shaped generations of students equipped not only to engage with the world around them but to effect changes for the better. The presence of an apolitical Students' body, rare of its kind, adds to the affable atmosphere in the College. Students work harmoniously with the College administration and the Teacher's Council for the sustenance and enhancement of the academic and cultural ethos of the College.
Best Practices of the Institution
Best Practice I
- Title of the Practice
Organising Seminars on luminaries of the Bengal Renaissance.
- Objective of the Practice
The main objective has been to bring into being a generation of Indian women who, inspired by their glorious heritage would combine dignity with forthrightness, have minds that are truly illuminated, and can become dynamic, mature and large hearted citizens of the world in the truest sense of the term. It is our goal that the pupils of this College should not only have a deep human commitment, and hearts where there is a place for all, but be able to create a space for themselves transcending their subaltern status.
- The Context
Change is the only constant thing in the world, and this is perhaps truer for the present moment than for any other moment of history. Today, with the technological explosion, India is passing through a crucial transitional phase. Whether in communication or education, in professional opportunities or lifestyle, we witness a radical change. A change is seen even in those basic human values which are non-ephemeral. An uncritical fascination with the Occident is seducing our best brains westward. Nostalgia should never be overpowering but we think the students of Bethune College must be cognizant of the rich heritage not only of their college but also of West Bengal and India. Since Bethune College is no ordinary institute but the first Women's college in this part of the world it is only natural that its pupils should not only be made aware of their glorious legacy but be encouraged to carry it forward.
- The Practice
In Bethune College, instructive Seminars are regularly held to commemorate the birth centenary and sesquicentennial birth anniversary of luminaries, many of them being leading figures of the Bengal Renaissance. On certain occasions exhibitions are also arranged in order to give the students a feel of the time and familiarise them with the lives of these great men and women. Commemorative volumes are also published and an issue of the Annual College magazine is dedicated to these luminaries. Bethune College, the first Women's college in this part of the world, has a rich heritage and claims among its alumna such illustrious women as Pritilata Wadder (born 1911). She was, according to recorded history, the only woman after the Great Revolt of 1857 to embrace death for the cause of freedom. The College under the aegis of the Higher Education Department, Government of West Bengal, organised a year-long celebration in 2010-11 to commemorate her centenary. The celebration included the inauguration of Pritilata Bhavan by the then Chief minister of the State. A star-studded International Seminar "Pritilata, Bethune College and the Revolutionary Movement in Colonial Bengal" was organised An exhibition and a Students' Seminar was also held. The closing ceremony was marked by the publication of a commemorative volume entitled "They Dared: Essays in honour of Pritilata Wadder" in 2011.
It is also a matter of great pride for the College that the first two women graduates of Calcutta University, Chandramukhi Basu and Kadambini Ganguly were students of Bethune College. Chandramukhi Basu completed her post-graduation from Calcutta University in 1884 and then became the Principal of Bethune College. Kadambini Ganguly studied medicine and became the first Indian lady doctor in 1886 after being awarded a GBMC (Graduate of Bengal Medical College). It was decided to pay homage to these pioneers of women's education in India on their 150th birth anniversary, and a seminar sponsored by the Higher Education Department, Government of West Bengal was held on September 9, 2010, jointly with Sammilani, the Alumnae Association of Bethune College. Informative and enlightening lectures were presented by experts not only on the life and works of both these illustrious women but also on female doctors and women's health. A commemorative volume entitled "Alor Sarani Beye" (Along the Illumined Path) was published (2011) containing essays not only on these two path-finder women but many distinguished members of the Bethune alumnae.
The pioneering scientist Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy's 150th birth anniversary was commemorated with a one day Seminar and an inter-college quiz competition on 10.12. 2010. The speakers presented their views on the works of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy and discussed concepts related to Chemistry for the edification of students.
The 150th birth anniversary of Swami Vivekananda was marked by a grand seminar sponsored by the Higher Education Department, Government of West Bengal on 2.2. 2013. Enlightening presentations were made by specialists and experts focusing on the life, teachings and contribution of Swamiji in various fields. An essay competition on the life and works of Swami Vivekananda was also organised for the students. The students actively participated in the competition and the winning entries were later published in the College Magazine Adiganta.
Seminars, invited lectures and cultural programmes were also organised to pay tribute to the world renowned Bengali poet and Nobel Laureate Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore to mark his 150th birth anniversary. A UGC sponsored Seminar was organised on "Rabindranath Tagore in Translation" on 24.9.2013. The lectures in the seminar were concerned with translations of Tagore both by himself and by others, in languages ranging from English and Hindi to Chinese and Japanese. Eminent Sanskrit Scholar Professor Nrisingha Prasad Bhaduri deliberated on how Sanskrit chant words influenced Tagore. The students and faculty were truly enlightened by the lesser known aspects of translation which were discussed in the seminar.
The 150th birth anniversary of Sir Asutosh Mukherjee was celebrated with a seminar sponsored by the Higher Education Department, Government of West Bengal on December 14, 2013. Bethune College was identified as the zonal centre for all colleges in Calcutta and Howrah by the Higher Education Department and consequently it was the responsibility of the College to conduct an inter-college essay competition related to Sir Asutosh Mukherjee. Students from all colleges actively participated in the competition. Sir Asutosh Mukherjee dedicated himself to the cause of education and amelioration of the society through education. He was also a reputed lawyer and mathematician and established the Calcutta Mathematical Society in 1908. These different facets of Sir Asutosh Mukherjee were discussed in the course of the seminar by speakers from diverse spheres. The seminar and the essay competition made it possible for the students to be acquainted with this luminary of the Bengal Renaissance.
In keeping with the aim of acquainting our students with their rich heritage, Bethune College organises a memorial lecture to honour the memory of John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune, the founding father of the Institution, every year on the 12th of August. Bethune was an immensely important figure during the Bengal Renaissance for ushering in the era of women's empowerment through education. Eminent scholars belonging to various walks of life deliver enlightening talks on this occasion every year. These lectures have served and will continue to serve as a rich source of enlightenment and edification for our students. These lectures, seminars, exhibitions and commemorative volumes give the students the required exposure - over and above classroom study - to a range of issues which have both direct reference to current social, political and ideological questions and remind them of their invaluable heritage.
- Evidence of Success
Our pupils have proved that they have been inspired by the glorious example set by these great men and women. By enthusiastically participating in creative writing competitions they have shown that they welcome progress and revere their heritage. These well-researched articles written by the pupils reveal both a desire to understand the teachings of Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda, two of the greatest Indians and to enrich their own lives by emulating their examples as far as possible. We are confident that our pupils will be able to clear a space for themselves transcending their marginalised status as women and amalgamate Western and Eastern values into a new, imaginative synthesis.
- Problems Encountered and Resources
It is difficult to acquaint the students with their rich historical past in the presence of an ever changing present. The College strives to inculcate the fast disappearing moral values of compassion, humility, industriousness and tolerance in our pupils'minds so that they become better human beings in the truest sense of the term. We require an active participation from the student community, a fully equipped seminar hall with audiovisual aids and trained personnel for handling the audiovisual equipments and more generous allocation of funds.
Best Practice II
- Title of the Practice
Conservation and documentation of wild biodiversity in the College campus and establishment of medicinal plant garden within the College campus.
- Objectives of the Practice
- Conservation of wild, ornamental, rare and endangered species. This helps in inculcating the interest, awareness and responsibility towards our environment and its protection for sustainable development and also to maintain greenery in our campus.
- Establishment of medicinal plant garden
which is beneficial for generating attention
and responsiveness among students, to
popularise the values of medicinal plants
for primary healthcare.
- The Context
- Qualitative and quantitative study of floral and faunal components in and around the College campus.
- Vegetational mapping and tree profiling of Canopy Cover.
- Cytological study of a few species of Ficus with Barcoding, some of them are important niche for fruit bat and rock bee population.
- Preservation of voucher specimens (plants) in the College Herbarium including photo documentation of biodiversity components identified in the College campus and surroundings.
- Endeavour to establish a medicinal plant
garden of at least 20 medicinal plants.
- The Practice
The wild flora and fauna in the College campus and its surroundings have already been documented as a first step towards its conservation. Some plants already existed in the College campus and some more have been planted. Voucher specimens (plants) have been preserved in the College herbarium and Digital photo Documentation of Biodiversity components identified in the College campus and its surroundings have been done. An attempt has also been made to utilise tissue culture methods (micropropagation) to develop some over exploited medicinal plants (like Bacopamonnieri, common name Brahmi) which would protect these from getting depleted due to continuous extraction of active principles from such plants. Some important medicinal plants are planted and maintained in flowering pots.
- Evidence of Success
It has been possible to document more than 30 plants, some of which are roosting sites of fruit bats and nesting areas of squirrels, crows, mynas, bees and ants. A medicinal plant garden has been established within the College campus where some species of medicinal plants like the Murraya exotica L., Herpestes monnieria (L.) Kunth, Rauvolfia serpentina (L) Benth., Rauvolfia tetraphylla L., Kaempferia galanga L., Rhoeo discolor L. are maintained.
- Problems Encountered and Resources
- Lack of land areas with proper sunlight throughout the day is an impediment for proper growth of the plants.
- Lack of enough resources including skilled labour and fund to develop and maintain the medicinal plant garden in a large scale is another problem faced by the College.
- Efforts are being made to upgrade the
tissue culture laboratory in the College
which would be beneficial for in-vitro
conservation of the plants.