Twelve Wonderful Women: Pandita Ramabai

After buying a vintage book called Twelve Wonderful Women I have been giving summaries of each of the twelve women (I wasn't alone in being disappointed in how few I knew of!).

I discovered Elizabeth Fry, the lady on the back of our Five Pound note first, followed by Fanny Jane Crosby.

Pandita Ramabai

Pandita Ramabai was born in India in 1858. Luckily for Pandita, her father had advanced views on female education, and by the age of twelve she had memorised 1800 verses from the scriptures of Hinduism.

Unfortunately Pandita and her siblings became orphans, and they had to travel a lot so that her brother could get work. In these struggles they lost faith in their Hindu religion, and gained an interest in the plight of the Hindu women.

Pandita could speak seven languages, and along with her brother, she travelled throughout Bengal, holding meetings about education and the emanicpation of women. Sadly, her brother died, leaving Pandita alone.

When she was 22 she married a Calcutta University graduate, but when their daughter was a year old, he died. She now focused on the issue of child-widows.

Child-widows, whose husbands had  died were treated terribly. The death was seen as a sign that the child had committed a crime in a previous life, and she would have to work hard, suffer brutality and wasn't allowed to attend family gatherings. She would be kept under the care of her mother-in-law until she died!

In 1891, India had about 23,000,000 widows, many young women and children. Pandita was highly motivated to give their suffering a voice.

She moved with her daughter to England, and she accepted the post of Professor of Sanskit at the Cheltenham Ladies' College. She visited America, and studied their education methods. She eventually decided she wanted to found a school where Hindu widows could be educated so that they could earn their own living.

In 1899 her colony included a fruit farm, saree looms, dairy work, oil making and grain. She had 800 widows training and staying there.

She died, aged 64, in 1922.