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History (CMC)

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In the first half of this century, some one dozen women in Banaras played key rotes in channelling the educational movement into new directions, expanding its agenda to include girls, especially poor girls. These women stand out as pioneering in that they founded schools, dynamic in the way they administered and expanded them, and radical in the vision they had for their students. What makes the case of these women particularly interesting is that they were mostly widows. They rejected the familiar stereotypes for widows through their activism, but in subtle ways that retained for them the respect of society Through the manipulation of symbols, they attained the position of 'devis'.

Other women of the time, from before then, and right up to the present, who are active in education—and indeed in other areas of public life—have similarly found that functioning within certain norms that define 'purity', 'virtue', and 'austerity' enable them to go further in their professional work. Is this merely an instrumental technique of the most obvious kind, or do these highly motivated, enterprising women not share the same cultural fund of values as their society, and often deliberately choose to exploit the flexibility and contextuatity inherent in a cultural tradition.

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© 1991 Nita Kumar

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