Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya, the second girls’ school in Calcutta, was founded by Shivnath Shastri on behalf of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, on 16 May 1890. However, the history of its foundation was connected with the sociopolitical condition of the city prevailing in those days.
During those days of the 19th century, girls were exploited and abused in the family, as well as in the society. They were not allowed to go out alone, talk to anyone outside the family members and were deprived of formal education. Girls were taught to obey without questioning. However, even in that situation, a group of enlightened persons of Bengal, like Pundit Shivnath Shastri, Upendra Kishore Roy Choudhury, Dwarakanath Gangopadhyay, Anandamohan Basu and others were keen to spread education among the women. They believed that, Indian women desperately need to be educated for their social awareness and to acquire the ability to voice their protest against the social injustice. Apart from that, they were convinced that, merely formal education is not sufficient for the girls. They should also learn home science, basic hygiene, medicine, cookery etc to become ideal mothers of the future citizens of India. Nevertheless, the parents in those days were reluctant to send their daughters to missionary schools, as they did not want their daughters to be influenced by the European culture, commonly called ‘firingi culture’.
In view of the above circumstances, the Executive Committee of the Sadharan Brahmo Samaj decided in 1890, to open a school for the young boys and girls of Calcutta. Accordingly, a school started operating from a rented house located on 13 Cornwallis Street, where 15 young boys and girls sat on a carpet to start their formal education. A hostel for girls was also added from 1 October of the same year and Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya started as a boarding school. However, as the number of students increased to 63 within a year and reached the entrance level in the third year, the school shifted to a bigger house at 56 Mirzapur Street.
Subsequently, in 1903 a plot of land along with a building was purchased on Upper Circular Road and after the construction of the new building, the school finally shifted to the present premises at 294 Upper Circular Road in 1903. The first school building, Mary Carpenter Hall, was constructed with the donations received from Mary Carpenter Trust of the Indian National Association and the British and Foreign Unitarian Association and the local people.
Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya started its journey with the aim of imparting intellectual training to its students based upon religious and moral instruction. Hence, the motto of the school, as engraved with the emblem is Shraddya, Tapasya and Sevaya - which means Respect, Persevarence and Service. Though the school was founded by Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, the school always preaches respect and broadness of mind to all religious beliefs for which the school has become a centre of unity among different and in the course of time, the girls from the Hindu families also got admitted here.
Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya was a product of the Bengal Renaissance and it flourished rapidly under the methodical guidance of Lady Abala Bose, wife of Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, who joined the heritage institution as the secretary in 1910 and held the post for long 26 years, until 1936. Her foresight and enthusiasm, along with the instinctive tactical ability to efficiently manage an educational institution, took the school into a top ranking institution at that time. She was instrumental in constructing the Durgamohan Bhavan in 1916.
The old building was also remodeled as the girls’ hostel in 1928 and renamed Ananda Mohan Bhavan. In her unique effort to develop a total education for the girls, Lady Abala Basu introduced Hygiene, Home Science, Embroidery etc as subjects of teaching, along with the syllabus of the Calcutta University. She was aware about the necessity of physical strength and fitness of the girls to make them confident and included Ju-Jitsu, fighting with long bamboo sticks and daggers, tennis, basketball and other events as part of the extracurricular activities. In fact, the school reached a glorious height during her able leadership.
A free primary school was set up for the needy children in 1921 and the teachers and students of the school helped to spread education amongst these children. Montessori Method of education was also introduced by Lady Abala Bose at the primary level of the school and she arranged to send Nalini Raha to Rome to be properly trained in the method. The Montessori wing of the school was set up, after she returned from abroad. That was the first Montessori trained school in Calcutta.
During the turbulent days of the Second World War, the school was temporarily shifted to Madhupur, as the military occupied the building. It returned in 1945 and after repairing the old and purchasing the new furniture, started functioning within a short period.
Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya, the second girls’ school in Calcutta, has completed its centenary on 16 May 1990. It will not be out of place to mention here that, the first girls’ school in Calcutta was founded by Drinkwater Bethune. Many students of Brahmo Balika Shikshalaya excelled later in life, the list of which include, among others, Kankabati Devi, Chandrabati Devi, Keya Chakraborty (acting), Sahana Devi, Malati Ghosal (music), Sukhalata Rao, Dr Rama Chowdhury, Bani Roy, Dipti Tripathy, Jaya Mitra (literature)