At the instance of Swami Vivekananda, his Irish disciple Sister Nivedita, alias Miss Margaret Elizabeth Noble started a school for the Indian girls at 16 (now 16A) Bosepara Lane, Baghbazar in north Calcutta.
Born on 28 October 1867 in the town of Dungannon in Ireland, Margaret Elizabeth was the daughter of Mary Isabel and Samuel Richmond Noble. Her father, who was a pastor, believed and taught that service to mankind is the true service to God. Margaret used to accompany her father, when he conducted services or visited the poor. She was educated at Halifax College, run by a member of the Congregationalist Church and at the age of seventeen started her career as a teacher at a school in Keswick in 1884. She started her own independent school in 1892, at Kingsleygate and also became a prolific writer in paper and periodicals.
She met Swami Vivekananda for the first time on a cold afternoon in November 1895, when he was explaining the Vedanta philosophy in the drawing room of an aristocratic family in London and that evening changed her life completely. After that, she attended several other lectures delivered by him, asked a lot of questions, and his answers dispelled her doubts and established her faith and reverence for the speaker. Responding to Swami Vivekananda's call, Margaret left for India, leaving behind her friends and family and arrived at Calcutta in February 1898. Though she insisted to take the ultimate vow of Sannyasa, Swami Vivekananda did not approve of it. Instead, he formally initiated Margaret in the vow of Brahmacharya, lifelong celibacy, on 25 March 1898 and gave her the name ‘Nivedita’, the dedicated one. He also advised Nivedita to spread education among the local girls.
With the blessings of Swamiji, Nivedita started her school for the Indian girls in a rented house, located on at 16 (now 16A) Bosepara Lane, Baghbazar. Sarada Devi, the wife and the spiritual counterpart of Sri Ramakrishna, came to inaugurate the school on the auspicious day of Kalipuja, the 13th November 1898. After worshiping Ramakrishna, she consecrated the school and blessed it, in the presence of Swami Vivekananda and some of his brother disciples.
During those days, Sister Nivedita used to reside in that house. Later, from time to time, the historic house was frequented by many luminaries of the contemporary period, like Rabindranath Tagore, Dr Jagadish Chandra Bose, Sri Aurobindo Ghosh, Girish Chandra Ghosh and many others. In fact, the building was mute, but expressive witness to the glorious phase of the Bengal Renaissance. Not only Sister Nivedita, but the Holy Mother Sarada Devi also lived there for more than a year.
However, time took its toll on the building, as it became dilapidated, with the roof and walls in a very precarious condition. Though the house was declared a Grade-I heritage building by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) in 2005, no action was taken to renovate the age old building, constructed between 1845 and 1848. It remained in that pathetic condition till 2013, when the Government of West Bengal acquired the building from the people who were residing in it for a very long time and handed over the property to Ramakrishna Mission on 16 March 2013, for restoration and renovation of the building for its proper use.
To maintain the original character of the building, the works of restoration were monitored by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).The plaster of the two storey building was completely removed. Special sized bricks, like the old bricks, were procured from a place situated near Bankura and Purulia and instead of cement, only lime and surki (powdered brick) was used to restore the building. The project incurred a cost of about 20,000,000 Rupees.
The renovated building was opened by the CM, Sri Mamata Banerjee in 2017. The famous Baithakkhana or the visitor's room, located on the left to the entrance, has now more space yet retained its originality. The narrow and rickety wooden staircase leading to the first floor has been replaced by a steel staircase. The Mission has proposed to set up a museum in the renovated building where many articles used by the Sister Nivedita will be exhibited.