Breaking The Myth of The ‘White Woman’s Burden’: Female Missionaries in Bengal and The Institutionalization of Zenana Education


Any discussion about the initial steps taken for the spread of women’s education in Eastern Bengal in the nineteenth century involves the contribution of female Christian missionaries from England. By the second half of the nineteenth century large numbers of educated young white women were joining the Church as overseas missionaries to work in every corner of the world that England had colonized. In Bengal, the arrival of female Christian missionaries in considerable numbers resulted in bringing Western education to the doorstep of the Bengali woman. The very traditional method of home teaching was established as a parallel system of formal education which in due time was acknowledged by Government as the Zenana Education System. The process of the institutionalization of the age-old custom of home teaching is explored in this paper. Also, the paper questions the validity of the assumption that sheer altruism and the noble idea of civilizing the uncivilized was the driving motivation for the women of England to endure the hardship of life away from home, in the colonies.

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