Savitribai Jyotirao Phule, was born on 3 January 1831 in Naigaon of Satara district in Maharashtra. Being a common practice in those days to marry a girl at an early age, she got married to Jyotirao Phule at the age of nine moved to her marital home in Pune in 1840. Her most prized possession was a book given to her by a Christian missionary. Jyotirao being a visionary and impressed by her thirst for learning he taught her to read and write. She undertook training at Ms. Farar’s Institution at Ahmednagar and in Ms. Mitchell’s school in Pune.
On January 14th, 1848, Jyotirao started a school for girls despite the criticism from his own caste and being thrown out of the house by his father. People were not willing to send their children to school. Savitribai started teaching in this school and she became the first woman teacher of India.
However, teaching by a woman was not an easy task then because education for girls was considered as a sin. She was subjected to intense harassment as Stones, mud and dirt were flung at her and abuse her in obscene language by a group of orthodox men. But being a strong hearted woman with a passion to educate girls in the society nothing stopped them.
She innovated many new ways of teaching like telling short stories, taking sport sessions, reciting her own-made poems in front of girls. Education for her was not merely alphabetical, learning but was to ignite minds and personality.
Her first collection of poems-KAVYA PHULE-was published in 1854 stressing the necessity of English and Education. Savitribai Phule was the first woman whose poems got noticed in the British Empire.
Looking at her passion for education, people started sending their girls to schools. The girl’s strength increased from 20 to 70 during 1849-50.
She conducted parent-teacher meeting at regulate intervals to involve the parents so that they could understand the importance of education and encourage their children. Being a visionary she very well understood the relation between Malnutrition and education. She took good care of health of each and every child in school.
184 years back Savitribai gave stipends to prevent children from dropping out of school.
Those days’ marriages were arranged between young girls and old men. As men die of old age or sickness and the girls they had married were left widows. They were forced to have their head shaved so that she could easily be identified as a widow.
Moved by the plight of such widows and organised a strike of barbers to persuade them not to shave the head of the widows. She along with her husband started a shelter home for such widows.
The couple even adopted one child given birth by one of the widows. Yeshwant, their adopted son, trained as a doctor and eventually joined his mother in all the good work she did.
Since “untouchability” was a common practice they were not allowed to take water from the wells situated in the upper caste colonies. Moved by this, the couple opened the well in their house for the use of untouchables.
During the 1876 to 1898 famines, Savitribai Phule with her husband suggested many new ways to overcome the difficult time. They started distributing free food at many locations. She died at 10 March 1897 while she was nursing a plague- affected child as she got infected while serving the affected people.
Government of India honoured Savitribai Phule by publishing a postage stamp on 10 March 1998.
The University of Pune was renamed as Savitribai Phule Pune University on 9 November 2014.