Bentinck School has taught girls for 175 years. Asha Sridhar explores the historical institution

Inside the upbeat campus of the 175-year old Bentinck Higher Secondary School in Vepery, girls huddled together in small groups, preparing for their part in the upcoming sports day.

By their presence alone, these students contributed to an unbroken history of educating girls which their school has strived to achieve.

The institution, which is celebrating 175 years since its founding, has grown from having 21 girls to close to 2,000 girl students today, says headmistress and correspondent, D.D.D. Chellanatchiar. “Along with strengthening the students in academics, we give a lot of importance to sports. Be it NCC, boxing or scouts and guides, our girls have won several awards,” she says.

School records state that the institution was started in 1837 by Anna Drew, a missionary sent by the London Missionary Society. Back then, it was called the London Mission School and was started with 21 orphan children in a bungalow where needlework and scripture were the chief subjects. Later, a Mrs. William Porter took over as headmistress, and the school then came to be called Mrs. Porter’s School owing to her efficient running of it. In 1915, it was re-named after Lord William Bentinck, a governor general of India. One of the famous heads of the school was Yorkshire-born Marjorie Sykes, who taught there between 1930 and 1939 and was headmistress before she left for Shantiniketan. The school moved to its present site in 1852.

The school which offers Tamil, Telugu and English as mediums of instruction had a hostel for both teachers and students in those days. Thabitha Gerard, assistant headmistress, who was also a student of the school, says that in the 1960s the hostel had students from places such as Andhra Pradesh and Meghalaya.

“My mother, aunt and her cousin have all worked here, and lived in the hostel,” she says.

The school was granted recognition as a high school in 1898, and had its first student admitted to college in 1899. It became a higher secondary school in 1978. Having swiftly adapted to the changing role of education, they have even produced two state rank-holders in the SSLC and higher secondary examination, according to Ms. Chellanatchiar.

Though the school had been making steady progress, the momentum was kept up by those like Prema Massillamonie, former headmistress, in whose time 27 new classrooms, a library, an open air stage, a basketball court and computer education were introduced.

While attributing these also to the co-operation rendered by the strong parent-teacher association and a few enterprising individuals outside the school, Ms. Massillamonie described how in the early days, even getting a girl child to come to school was a challenge. “Ms. Thilakavathy Paul, a former HM who was also a national award winner, used to visit the girls’ houses to get girls to school and also to ensure that nobody dropped out,” she said.

Jasmine Patience, a former student of the school who now teaches economics recalls her days as a student. “The campus had many more trees, and I particularly remember an old Banyan tree around which all of us used to hover,” she says.

Keywords: Bentinck School

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