Lady Abala Bose: Feminist, Suffragist, Philanthropist

Lady Abala Bose was an inspirational leader and pioneer in women’s education and rights. She was born in Barisal in 1865 to Durgamohan Das, a leader in the Brahmo Samaj. Her mother, Brahmaymoyee, was an advocate for the upliftment of widows who faced severe social injustices and ostracisation. Bramhamoyee passed away when Abala was only 10, but her ideals shaped her daughter. Today, Abala Bose’s determination towards widow’s rights, women’s education, and her work as a pioneer in women’s suffrage is an inspiration for all. Lady Abala’s dedication to the principle of women supporting and uplifting each other inspires me to continue to advocate for women’s rights in my community and around the world. Her contributions are unparalleled, and it is imperative for her contributions to women’s suffrage and social reform to be recognized.

In her lifetime, Bose established 88 primary schools and 14 adult education centers in different parts of Bengal, including Muralidhar Girls College and Beltala Girls School with Krishnaprasad Basak, a member of the first council of Nari Siksha Samiti, in 1920. Five years later, in 1925, she established the Vidyasagar Bani Bhawan, which provided both teacher training and education to widows. Additionally, she was chosen as the first president of the Bengal Women’s Education League. Her dedication to women’s education and the empowerment of widows lifted innumerable women out of distress. Lady Bose’s efforts show me that standing up for the right thing can impact many lives positively.
In a piece she wrote for the English magazine Modern Review, she argued that women were entitled to a better education not so that they may find better matches for their sons and daughters or to even become more valuable daughters-in-law for their husband’s family, but because “a woman, like a man, is, first of all, a mind, and only in the second place, physical and a body.” Lady Bose firmly believed that women deserved education because they, like men, were minds before bodies. This progressive mindset was extremely liberal for a woman living in the early 20th century British India, and it is echoed in her work throughout her lifetime. Lady Bose’s firm belief in her ideals, regardless of the adversity she faced, encourages me to keep working towards my goals as a student and as a volunteer for Touch a Life.
Beyond her work in education, Lady Bose set up Mahila Shilpa Bhavan in Kolkata and Jhargram. Here, she encouraged the entrepreneurship and financial independence of distressed women and widows to live free from harsh societal expectations. After these women were trained in different arts and crafts, the institute helped them set up their own businesses. Her work shows me that women and young girls can stand together to achieve their goals by supporting and building up one another.

Bose also acted as a pioneer in women’s suffrage in India. In 1917, she was part of a delegation that met with Edwin Montagu during the negotiations of the Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. The delegation, which included suffragists such as Sarojini Naidu, Margaret Cousins, Ramabai Ranade, and Dorothy Jinarajadasa, contributed to women in India being granted the right to vote in 1921 in Madras. The efforts she and other suffrage activists put in to give millions of women a voice show me the importance of advocating for rights and standing up for the rights of many, even in the face of adversity. Her commitment to empowering all women regardless of their social status motivates me to serve the community with my resources.

Vedanshi Sreeramoju,