Bethune College owes its origin to the Hindu Female School, established by John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune in 1849, as the first school for girls in Calcutta. Bethune, who came to Calcutta in 1848, as Law Member of the Governor General's Council, was keen to spread education among the women, which would give them the courage to fight against the social injustice they suffer. He could feel that Indian women desperately need to be educated for their awareness of their rights and the ability to voice their protest and solve their problems.
Equipped with sincere encouragement, hearty cooperation and active participation of the pioneer social reformers like Pundit Madan Mohan Tarkalankar, Pundit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Ramgopal Ghosh, Raja Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee and others, Bethune established the Hindu Female School, the first school for girls in Calcutta, in1849, built on a piece of land donated by Dakshina Ranjan. In 1856, the Government took charge of the school and renamed it after its founder in 1862-1863. During August 1878, Bethune School was merged with the Banga Maha Vidyalaya, founded by Miss Annette Akroyd.
For details about the foundation of the Bethune School, interested persons may visit - Bethune Collegiate School Heritage
Bethune School created history, when as the first school for girls in Calcutta, it earned the special distinction and credit of sending up the first woman candidate, Kadambini Ganguly (nee Basu), for the Entrance Examination of the University of Calcutta. As Kadambini came out successfully in the Second division, her intense desire to pursue higher studies prompted the Government to arrange classes for continuing her undergraduate classes in Bethune school itself. That was the beginning of the Bethune College, which started functioning in 1879 with just one student, Kadambini Bose. Later, Chandramukhi Basu, a native Christian girl from Dehradun, joined her in 1881. Consequently, both the girls were graduated in 1883 and thus became the first female graduates of the Calcutta University. It is interesting to note that, after graduation, Kadambini Ganguly joined the Calcutta Medical College as the first Indian woman student in medical science and later became the first practicing lady doctor in India. Chandramukhi Basu, on the other hand, joined Bethune College as a Lecturer in English and later became the First Lady Principal of the Institution.
Established in 1879 and located on 181 Bidhan Sarani, Bethune College is the oldest women's college in Asia. The earliest courses introduced in the College were those of English and Sanskrit in 1917. Affiliation was extended for catering to I.Sc (Intermediate Science) course in 1923, while Mathematics along with Philosophy was added to the list of the Honours subjects during the same year. However, today the college has Hnours affiliation in as many as 17 subjects.
With the passing of time, it became an urgent necessity to shift the College to a separate building. Accordingly, the old Christ Church was renovated to meet the purpose and the college library was also shifted to the ground floor of the building, which was later named Vidyasagar Bhavan. Subsequently, the library was bifurcated into the Arts Library and the Science Library and the two wings were shifted to two separate buildings in 1983. The old quarter of Mrs Mrinalini Emerson (ex-Principal) became the science library and the second floor of the centenary building, named 'Kadambini Bhavan' became the Arts Library. Later, the Science library was again shifted to the ground floor of a new building, constructed beside Chandramukhi Bhavan.
Drinkwater Bethune had the vision of producing better wives and better mothers in their homes, with the help of education and the mission of the College, named after him, has always been the development of a complete woman. Since its foundation, the Bethune College has always played a pivotal role in the emancipation of women in the country.