In times where women are still not seen on par with men, these women worked hard to educate themselves and others, and break the boundaries of gender. Here are seven inspiring women who worked in the sphere of education.

Savitribai Phule

She was the first female teacher in India. Being from a lower caste, she was forbidden from receiving an education, however, her husband Jyotirao Phule, taught her by giving her primary school education at home. Soon, she took teaching courses. She played an important role in improving women’s education in British ruled India. She found the first Indian-run girls’ school in Pune with her husband. She was a philanthropist and a prolific Marathi writer. Facing many hardships because of her caste, she and her husband were disowned by their families because of not following the Brahmanical code of conduct which did not allow them to receive an education or even teach. She was often pelted with dung, stones and mud for her progressive outlook. She persevered and worked to abolish discrimination against people based on caste and gender.

She played an important role in improving women’s education in British ruled India. She found the first Indian-run girls’ school in Pune with her husband.

Helen Keller

At 19 months old Helen Keller contracted an unknown illness which left her blind and deaf. Anne Sullivan, who was herself a visually impaired person taught Helen and became her mentor and companion. Soon, she received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Radcliffe College at Harvard, and became the first deaf-blind person to do so. She went on to learn braille and sign language which helped her deliver lectures and speeches about her life. She was an advocate for the deaf and blind. Her autobiography, “The Story of My Life” inspired millions and her book, Miracle Worker was adapted into both a movie and a play. She campaigned for women’s suffrage, labour rights, socialism and anti-militarism.

Maria Montessori

At an early age, Montessori broke gender expectations when she enrolled in classes at an all-boys technical school. She shortly had a change of heart and enrolled herself in a school of medicine at the Sapienza University of Rome, where she graduated – with honours – in 1896. She was the first person to introduce the concept of nursery schools, which soon began to be called the Montessori method. She believed that children should be taught from a young age to learn and acquire skills for a better life. She believed they should be able to shape their own future.

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She was a lecturer, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, and civil rights activist best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida

Mary McLeod Bethune

She was a lecturer, stateswoman, philanthropist, humanitarian, and civil rights activist best known for starting a private school for African-American students in Daytona Beach, Florida and co-founding UNCF on April 25, 1944 with William River Trent and Frederick D. Patterson. She attracted donations of time and money and developed the educational college as a university. Later on she continued to develop the Bethune-Cookman University. Born in Mayesville, South Carolina, to parents who had been slaves, she started working in the fields with her family at age five. She took an early interest in becoming educated; with the assistance of benefactors. After performing on the presidential campaign for Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, she was invited as a member of his “Black Cabinet.” She advised him on concerns of black people and helped share Roosevelt’s message and achievements with blacks, who had historically been Republican voters since the Civil War. At the time, blacks had been largely disenfranchised in the South since the turn of the century, so she was speaking to black voters across the North.

Clara Barton

 

She was a pioneering American nurse who founded the American Red Cross. She was a hospital nurse in the American Civil War, a teacher, and patent clerk. Nursing education wasn’t very formalised at that point and she failed to attend school of nursing, so she provided self-taught nursing care. Barton is noteworthy for doing humanitarian work and civil rights advocacy at a time before women had the right to vote.

“Many government schools do children a disservice. They don’t teach them properly, and then follow a no-detention policy. What you are left with are teenagers who can’t construct a basic sentence in either English or Hindi,”

Vimla Kaul

She has not stopped working since she retired as a government school teacher 20 years ago. She educates under-privileged children in Delhi. All the children are from around the area whose parents mostly work as maids or drivers, servicing the middle class housing colony across the road. Students are taught English, Science, Math and Environment. She additionally owns one computer and offers extracurricular activities like yoga, dance and drill. “Many government schools do children a disservice. They don’t teach them properly, and then follow a no-detention policy. What you are left with are teenagers who can’t construct a basic sentence in either English or Hindi,” Mrs Kaul told BBC. “We don’t turn anyone away, but we hold an entrance test to evaluate the standard of the child, and if they perform poorly in class examinations we hold them back. The main issue is to teach them properly,” she added.

Annie Besant

As an educationist, her contributions included the founding of the Banaras Hindu University. Banaras Hindu University formerly Central Hindu College was established in 1916 by Madan Mohan Malaviya and Annie Besant. Set up in Varanasi, the plans to create a world class university were sown long before. Both Besant and Malaviya started raising funds early and together were a focus in creating it. In 1907 Besant had applied for a royal charter to establish a university. However, there was no response from the British government.

Following the publication of Malviya’s plan, Besant met Malviya and in April 1911 they agreed to unite their forces to build the university in Varanasi.

Today it has over 30,000 students residing in campus and possibly Asia’s largest residential university. She set up the Theosophical society in India but she was also a champion of gender rights and female education. To promote the university’s expansion, Malviya invited eminent guest speakers such as Mahatma Gandhi and even Annie Besant to deliver a series of what are now called The University Extension Lectures between 5–8 February 1916. Gandhi’s lecture on the occasion was his first public address in India.

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