150 years of supporting girls' education
By Aparna Unni | ENS | Published: 12th October 2013 10:13 AM |
That the formal education of females is not a recent phenomenon in this part of the country, will once again be highlighted next month when the Fort Girls’ Mission High School here enters its 150th year.
Located right in front of the northern entrance of the now world-famous Sree Padmanabha Swamy Temple, the school completes 149 years of existence on November 3. One of the oldest schools in the city, it traces its origins back to 1864, when Augusta Mary Blandford, an English missionary, came to the Travancore of Ayilyam Thirunal Rama Varma, who had inherited a debt-ridden state and was keen on implementing reforms in Travancore beneficial for it.
“Blandford arrived from England at Kottayam and came to Travancore as a missionary of the Church of England’s Zenana Mission Society,” said Molly George, former headmistress of the school whose relationship with it dates back to 1951, when the high school was started and she joined as a senior assistant.
“She was keen on educating girls and liberating them from being confined to their homes,” Molly George said.
With the blessings of Ayilyam Thirunal and his diwan T Madhava Rao, a palace building, which was “believed to be haunted” and was closed off, was given to her to start her school.
“She started with three students, one of whom was the diwan’s niece, and the school came to be known as the ‘Vadakkekottaram Pallikoodam,’” said Molly George.
The old palace building where the school started functioning was later destroyed in a storm and the present-day structure was constructed in 1914, when a Ms Cox, another English missionary, was head there.
“The last English missionary to head the school was Ms Doss, who had to step down after the government decision that non-Indians shall not head any institution,” said Molly George. The school is now managed by a 12-member board chaired by the Bishop of the CSI south Kerala diocese.
The school, said the present acting headmistress Helen Violet, has some prominent names in its alumni list - Ponnamma Thanu Pillai (wife of Pattom Thanu Pillai), J Lalithambika IAS, writer Chandramathi and the actor sisters Kalarenjini, Kalpana and Urvashi.
“Earlier there was also a lower primary section where boys as well as girls were taught,” said Molly George. One name, she said, that stands out among the male alumni is that of the veteran actor the late Adoor Bhasi.
Visitors to the school now would see a large red-brick building, standing prominent surrounded by three smaller ones, all shingled with mud tiles recalling the Kerala architectural style, and showing signs of disrepair. In recent times, this school too, like many of its contemporaries, has been a victim of a fall in the number of students.
“When I joined the institution around 20 years ago, we had over a thousand students in the classes 5 - 10,” said Violet. “Now the number has fallen to around half of that, but this phenomenon is not unique to our school.”
One aspect Violet says she is proud of is the fact that “despite fund shortage, the school has never collected money for teacher appointments or taken any donations from students”. The school conducts its daily activities using PTA funds.
The year-long 150th anniversary celebrations of the school began in February this year and will commence with a special proclamation procession by students along with the 149th Annual Day celebrations on November 4.