BENGALURU: Located on Mission Road, the Mitralaya Girl’s High School was established in 1842. Earlier known as London Mission Girl’s School, it was the first Kannada school for girls in Bengaluru.
Mitralaya, housed in a brick and mortar structure, means Abode of Friends and has its moto “Love fruitful in Service” taken from one of the Tagore’s prayers, Song 36 from Gitanjali.
As early as 1800s, the Christian missionaries began their activities in the city with a primary objective of imparting high quality education, says Arun Prasad, an independent researcher and historian. “Along with schools, they also began a press for printing materials such as textbooks and literature materials. They also played an important role in not just imparting English education but also modernising indigenous vernacular education. They were also the pioneers in spreading women’s education.”
On December 29, 1836, a batch of Christian missionaries of London Mission Society from England with Rev Benjamin Rice and his wife Jane Rice arrived in Madras. On the night of January 6, 1837, they left for Bangalore. It is said that they and their fellow missionaries travelled in five palanquins accompanied by 70 bearers. The journey took a week’s time.
Interestingly, the wives of the Christian missionaries, took the task and responsibility of women’s education in the state. Jane Rice started studying Kannada to help in her husband’s work. She finally decided to start A Kannada girl’s boarding school.
According to a report presented by Sujana Jaganadhan, who served as principal of the school from 1979, as there weren’t too many boarders, Rice decided to focus on day scholars to provide education to girls from and others who were willing to send their daughters.
The schools were dependent on what missionaries would collect from friends in England and Bangalore. Some churches and Sunday schools in London have contributed towards the support of girls in the boarding school.
First School for Girls
In 1840, Mrs Sewell, wife of Rev James Sewell of London Mission, opened the first Kannada girls school at the Bangalore Petah, says Arun Prasad.
It was the first time native girls were able to attend the school in the region. Rev Benjamin Rice prepared the text books in Canarese. They were taught to write and read Kannada and English with a stress on learning geography and arithmetic.
J M Richard, former treasurer of Karnataka Central Diocese Church of South India, says, “In 1840, Mitralaya school was functioning in a building in the Mission Compound, near the present Unity Building. It was started by Mrs Sewell along with Jane Rice. It had a strength of only three children. There were 25 non-resident children. As the strength grew, the small building could not cater to the needs and hence, it was moved to the present location on Mission Road in 1842. The land for the school was given by Mysore Maharaja. The old premises now houses Mitralaya Boarding Home.”
But Arun Prasad says, “The land where the present school building stands, belonged to Thomas Hodson from Wesley Mission. It was a 20-acre land where he started Wesleyan school in 1834. It was an English school.” Later in 1920, the Wesleyan Mission and London Mission merged to form United Mission.”
Richard differs, “They merged but Wesleyan Mission has no associations with Mitralaya.”
The school was supervised by Jane Rice until her death in 1864 due to illness. The school had about 400 students then.
After her death, Benjamin Rice married Catherine Muller, a widow of the German missionary. Catherine Rice along with her daughter Harriet Muller took up charge of the boarding school. Although Harriet was actively involved in the workings of the boarding house, she did not take official charge until the death of her mother in 1887.
The girls also learned crochet work and were trained in cooking and other domestic work. According Sujana’s report, crochet was very fashionable during that period and four students from the school had won first prize at the exhibition “Native female needle-work open to all India”.
In 1897, a small school hall was built for the teachers and staff to carry on with their studies. The hall came out to be of great use during the outbreak of plague. The church services were held in this hall.
The outbreak of plague in 1898 led to the extension of the school services to several Hindu girls from different castes. In 1902, a further advance was made by opening of fourth form, the beginning of the high-school department. The extra responsibilities took a toll on the health of Muller and she broke down completely, unable to do any active work, in 1903. L H Bragg, a MA graduate took over the charge in1904.
The high school classes developed to forth and sixth forms, the present tenth standard.
Meanwhile, the numbers of boarders kept increasing and the Hindu Brahmin parents were allowing their daughters to continue their studies even after their marriage at the age of 13 or 14.
After Muller retired in 1911, the problem of accommodating Hindu boarders cropped up. In 1912, a new two-storey boarding block with kitchen and out-houses was erected. Though it was meant for Hindus to use separately, it sufficiently accommodated six to eight more boarders who were prepared to pay for the expenses.
The school got its present name Mitralaya after independence.
S R Prema, the present in-charge Headmistress, says, “There is a strength of about 1,200 students from nursery to Composite Junior College. We collect annual fees but, for those who are from poor background, we provide free boarding facilities, education and uniform. There are about 50 to 60 students in the boarding home now. We also provide mid-day meals.” The building has been maintained as a historic structure without much modifications to date.