100 years of women in higher education

The three girls, when they borrowed books from their college library, would never have thought that they were entering their names in the annals of history.

When CMS College, considered the oldest centre of English education in the country, is all set to celebrate the entry of women in higher education in central Kerala, the only remaining testimony of their presence on the rolls is their entries in the college library register.

There are three names for two consecutive years, 1913-14 and 1914-15. They are P.A. Aely, V.T. Chachi, and K.K. Anna.

“We do not have any other evidence to prove their presence, as the college registers for the period have been lost,” said Principal Roy Sam Daniel.

The ‘Travancore and Cochin Diocesan Records’ for the period, kept by the Central Kerala Diocese of the Church of South India, current managers of the college, has chronicled the presence of women students: “In the University Intermediate Examinations, 27 of the 50 students presented, passed, a better result than in recent years. Two of these were women students.”

The Missionary Register of the Church Mission Society (CMS) had already made the aim of female education in the country clear: to provide suitable wives for pastors, catechists, schoolmasters, and other mission agents.

By the time girls were admitted to Class One (Junior Intermediate Class) at CMS College, nearly a century had passed after the founding of ‘The College, Cottym’ (as the college was called at the beginning) in 1817 by Benjamin Bailey and the first ‘home school’ for girls, by Ms. Bailey, in 1818.

Women’s college

Moreover, the Travancore royal family had gone ahead with higher education for women by elevating the ‘Sircar Girls’ School’ in Thiruvananthapuram (established 1864) by upgrading it to Maharaja’s College for Women (Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram) in 1897.

However, social resistance to higher education for women appeared to be enormous even then: admission for women students at CMS College was rolled back by 1918 by the then Principal F.N. Askwith, who commenced the experiment, said Babu Cherian, faculty member at the Malayalam Department.

However, Askwith, who had a stint of more than a quarter of century at the helm of the institution, was not ready to give up and restarted admission for girls in 1938. There was no looking back ever since. Today more than 60 per cent of the 1,800 students on the rolls of the college are women.

College authorities will celebrate the momentous occasion with a series of programmes. Former judge of the Supreme Court K.T. Thomas, an alumnus, will formally inaugurate the celebrations on December 5. Daya Bai, social activist, will be guest of honour.