Savitribai Phule, the social reformer who founded India's first girls' school

Savitribai Phule is remembered for her fight against discrimination on the basis of caste and gender. In 2015, Maharashtra government recommended her for Bharat Ratna

Savitribai Phule is revered as one of India’s greatest social reformers. She is credited with establishing the country’s first women’s school. In 2015, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis endorsed the 19th-century educationist for the country’s highest civilian honour Bharat Ratna. Phule is known for her relentless work in the field of gender and caste equality. On her 186th birth anniversary this year, Google remembered her with a doodle, saluting her contributions in challenging the patriarchal society.


Early days

Born on January 3, 1831, in Naigon district of Maharashtra, she was married to Jyotirao Phule at the age of 9. It was her husband who taught her to read and write. She trained at Ahmednagar’s Ms Farar’s Institution and later at Ms Mitchell’s school in Pune, and became the first woman teacher.

Girl education

In 1848, she along with her husband founded India’s first school for women at Bhide Wada in Pune. The school had eight girl students who belonged to different castes. The sole motive to establish a school was to empower women through education in the 19th century. In those times, education for girls was considered a taboo and Savitribai was no stranger to harassment from the orthodox men in the society. It is believed that she carried two sarees while travelling to the school as people would throw mud at her. She later built 18 such schools in the region.

Also read: Aruna Asaf Ali, the revolutionary who hoisted the Indian flag during British rule

Fight against social evils

On March 10 this year, more than 3,000 women marched on the streets in Nagpur to mark the 120th death anniversary of Savitribai Phule. The march was being undertaken by the activists as part of their fight against casteism and religious patriarchy. During her lifetime, Phule stood for the rights of marginalised and fought against caste-based discrimination. In 1863, she set up a home for the prevention of infanticide and to prevent the killing of widows. Phule actively campaigned against child marriage, Sati tradition and oppression of women. Renowned filmmaker Shyam Benegal chronicled the contributions of Jyotirao and Savitribai Phule in his critically acclaimed soap Bharat Ek Khoj. Check out the episode here.


Also read: Dr Usha Mehta: The freedom fighter who helped set up a secret radio station for the Indian National Congress


Savitribai and her adopted son Yashwantrao set up a clinic to treat those affected by the bubonic plague that spread in Pune in 1897. While taking care of the patients, she was infected with the disease and died while serving at the hospital on March 1o that year.


Savitribai Phule is often revered as one of the most iconic social reformers who fought for equality. In 1998, the Indian government issued a stamp as a tribute to the activist. Add to this, the University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule Pune University in her honour.

Also read: How Durgabai Deshmukh caught Mahatma Gandhi’s attention at age 12 by fighting for the devadasis

As India celebrates 70 years of independence, we bring you stories of women who were part of the Indian Independence Struggle. You might have heard about some of them but most do not find a mention in our history books or popular memory. These were ordinary women from all walks of life who managed to make extraordinary contributions to the cause of freedom.

This series is our tribute to these women and their exemplary work. We bring you 70 stories of courage and valour over the next one week leading up to 15th August 2017. Write to us, if you have any names to add to this list. Email: