Isabella Thoburn (March 29, 1840-Sept. 1, 1901), an American Christian missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, has taken the honor of having established her first girls' school in India and she successfully ran the educational institutions and missionary work in North India, soon after the East India Company's exit and during the colonial rule under the direct British government in India.
Thoburn, the second youngest of ten children born in 1840 near St. Clairsville, Ohio, attended local schools and the Wheeling Female Seminary in Wheeling, Virginia (now in West Virginia). It was her brother James Mills Thoburn, a Methodist Episcopal missionary in India, in 1866 was responsible for bringing her to India to assist him in his educational and missionary work. He thought he could utilize his sister's several years of teaching experience in a backward country like India. But she could undertake the journey to India only in 1869 when the Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church enabled her to pursue missionary work under denominational affiliation and auspices.
Coming from a god-fearing family that gave much emphasis on moral values in social life, she had been brought up with the committed belief that service to the society was an essential part of one's life and was above anything else. A better society would build a stronger nation, it was the philosophy behind it. Armed with this moral instruction by her family, her brother James went to India as a missionary. Having known women's position in a conservative Indian society then, his intention was to give them hope and determination to lead a righteous life, identifying their inherent ability and sinking their ignorance to the abyss. The best choice would be first to educate the Indian women. Unfortunately his dream was shattered after the premature death of his wife who gave him her full support all the way. He thought his sister would take up the tasks left behind by his wife.
|Isabella Thoburn College. Lucknow, UP.YouTube|
Responding to her brother's call, Isabella said "yes." As soon as the Methodist church could organize a women's mission society, she was on her way. Accompanied by Dr. Clara Swain, the first female missionary doctor in the world, Isabella arrived in India on January 7, 1870. Soon her work began by visiting women in their Zenenas and sharing the gospel with them. With additional funds, she bought lands and buildings and opened a school for girls (8th April 1870 ) in Lucknow bazaar. It was just a small room, Isabella's heart was big. It took a while for her to cajole and convince the first seven girl terribly frightened to enter the class room. They were brought up with the belief that education was a taboo, a sin for a woman who was destined to spend her time in her home. One surprising fact is that she had a guard posted with a club in front of the class room so that no body from the place could barge in and take away the girls. In 1871, with more students, she began functioning from a house once occupied by the Nawob of Awadh. In the same period she was responsible for establishing a Methodist High School in Kanpur. These two educational institutions were among the first in colonial India, catering to the educational and religious needs of an emerging Anglo Indian society in Awadh - Lucknow, now in Uttar Pradesh. For many years she edited a semi-monthly newspaper in Hind Rafiq - i - Niswan - women' friend. Miss Thoburn's school was renamed on 12 July 1886 as the Lucknow Women's College and began to teach Fine Arts classes under the supervision of the University of Calcutta as it was affiliated to that university. In 1894, with the formation of Allahabad university, its affiliation changed over to that university. The name of the college changed to Isabella Thoburn in 1923 in her honor. The college now has a spacious campus (32 acres), once a royal garden called Chand Bagh (moon garden) in Lucknow city. Now, it is affiliated with Lucknow University.
|Indian Stamp Ghar|
In ancient India women had an envious position in the society enjoying equal rights with men and had free access to education and had the choice to choose their life partner. Gradually in the later part of the history, the scenario vis-a-vis women changed drastically by male domination and they were relegated to such a degree that they were "unwanted at birth, un-honored in life, un-wept in death." Isabella toiled tirelessly for the poor women in the Indian society, instilling in them courage to fight it and understand their purpose in life so that they could develop qualities of leadership, essential for nation building. Traveling across India, she asked the Christian missions to open more educational institutions for girls.
Thoburn returned to the United States and for was sometime associated with Lucy Rider Meyer's Chicago Training School for City and in 1887, Meyer offered her a position - the first house mother and superintendent of the school's new Methodist Deaconess Home for training female deacons. Later she returned to India to take care of her institutions.
She died in 1901 in Lucknow, India. After her death, one
Lilavati Singh, a beautiful and cultivated representative of the upper caste community , took over the management of the college for eight long years. Isabella Thoburn College is run by the Isabella Thoburn Society of the Methodist Church in India and is an Associate College of the University of Lucknow. Numerous alumni of this college, founded by a highly spirited woman from an ordinary American family, have made valuable contribution in various fields, thus upholding her vision of quality leadership throughgood education.