Save Our Schools: Women’s education in the city received a boost with the establishment of the Raja’s Girls’ School in 1859

After the Maharaja’s Free School ran successfully for almost a quarter century, on October 29,1859, Raja’s Girls’ School was opened in Thiruvananthapuram at the Cantonment (Palayam) at the place where the University College campus now exists.

The government records of the period say “I propose that Mrs. D’Veigas should be the School mistress on a salary of Rupees 40 per mensem. The rent of the house will be seven Rupees. The school house situated in the Cantonment... will be considered under the charge of the Sirkar. I have requested Mrs. Faunce and Mrs. Waring to exercise such supervision over the institution as they may consider necessary. There will of course be no necessity for Mr. Mead’s interference whatever in the school. I trust you will permit some elementary books to be supplied by Mr. Lapenais, who, I believe can spare a few from ‘His Highness’ Free School”.

The exact origin of the school is not very clear. In Progress of Travancore Under H.H. Sree Moolam Tirunal, Poet Ulloor S. Parameswara Iyer states, “The Sirkar Girls School was originally a private school established at Pettah for the education of Christian girls, until the Government, assuming its management in 1049 (1873-74) threw it open to girls of every class.”

S. Ramanatha Iyer in his book A Brief Sketch of Travancore mentions: “... so far back as 1857 the nucleus of a girl’s school was formed under the superintendence of Miss Abel. She was succeeded by Miss Mainwaring. Ms Mainwaring’s successor was Miss Donnelly. She was long connected with the institution. The institution prospered much under her creditable stewardship. It rose to the standard of a high school. Through the unceasing efforts and enterprise of her successor, Miss Williams, it has expanded still further (a second grade College)”.

The women mentioned as leading the school have not left behind much information. Ms D’Veigas is a name one can see appearing in Travancore history and has survived to the present. One Mr. D’Veigas is seen taking part in Travancore-British negotiations during the times of Velu Thampi. Interestingly, a Mrs. D’Verigas lives in our midst in the city at Pettah (where the school may have had its origin). She was born to Portuguese and French parents and brought up in the city, and is a descendant of Dr. Sawyer, physician in the court of Travancore.

Ms. Mainwaring is also a name that appears later in Thiruvananthapuram (C.W.E Cotton got acquainted with Ms. Violet Mainwaring in Thiruvananthapuram and married her in 1920s). We do not know if she was related to the lady Headmistress of the Sirkar Girls’ School.

A Travancore Administration report says: “The English Girls’ School at Thiruvananthapuram was re-opened in 1869 under the direction of Miss Mainwaring, who came out from Europe. In the year under review the pupils increased from 25 to 39. Six of these are free pupils, the others paying a fee of 4 or 8 Anas according as they are under or above 10 years of age. Drawing and music are charged for separately. The course of study for the year included in Geography, the maps of Asia, Europe and England, in History, Morri’s History of India, and Markham’s History of England as far as the Commonwealth; part of a course or lessons on Natural History; Composition; and Grammar, as far as Syntax; in Arithmetic, the Compound Rules and Reduction. Also Writing, Reading, Object lessons. Mr. Matcher, the master of the Nair Brigade Band, is employed to give music lessons, and Miss Mainwaring writes of him that “he spares neither time nor pains to bring on his pupils, who already do him great credit”.

School hours were from 9 a.m to 4 p.m with an interval from 1 to 2 being allowed for refreshment. Fees were based on the income of parents (4 Anas to 1 Rupee and 8 Anas). Children of persons without income or with a salary of less than 25 rupees had no fees. No girls above 15 years of age were retained in the school. Examinations and prize distributions took place twice a year, in June and December.

Report of Administrations of Madras Presidency 1878-79 mentions that there was an English Girls’ School in Thiruvananthapuram, on the rolls of which there were 57 girls at the end of 1053 [1878], as against 55 in the year before. In 1894-95, the Travancore Public Instruction report mentions that the school was moved to the new building erected on a site opposite the college (which now houses the language departments of the University College. This means that the school functioned in the University College main campus. The ladies waiting room behind the main building is a possibility).

Miss Donnelly, Lady Superintendent, retired. The public seem to have commemorated her services for the cause of female education by founding a library and also painting a portrait of hers. Ms. S.B. Williams succeeded her in 1896. Miss Rodriguez and Miss Olive Bain were some of the other teachers. Kindergarten instruction was introduced in the Infant classes.

The name of the institution was changed to ‘HH The Maharaja’s High School for Girls’ from ‘Sirkar Girls School’ in 1894-95. In 1897, the school was upgraded to the Maharaja’s College for Girls with just three girls in the college section. The college later shifted to the Vazhuthacaud campus but the school remained on the same campus till 1935. In 1898, there were 289 students.