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VIDYA GAURI NiLKANTH (1876-1958)


Vidya Gauri Nilkanth was a social reformer, educationist and writer. She was one of the first two women graduates in Gujarat. Her daughrter Vinodinee Naalkanth (q.v.) also became a writer. Vidya Gauri was born on 1 June 1876 in Ahmedabad. She was the daughter of Gopilal Dhruva, a petty judicial officer, and Balaben. Her father was posted to various small towns in Gujarat while the family stayed in Ahmedabad so that the two girls, Vidya Gauri and Sharda, could go to school. Vidya Gauri studied till class VII at a school in Ahmedabad, then, finding nowhere else to continue their education, she and her sister joined the Anglo-Vernacular classes at the Mahalakshmi Teachers Training College. While still in school, Vidya Gauri was married to Ramanbhai, nine years older than her. Together they wrote articles and books and jointly edited a magazine, Jnansudha. She took the Matriculation examination and then, three years later, was admitted to the Gujarat College. Vidya Gauri stood first in Logic in the Intermediate Arts Examination of Bombay University, then took eight years to complete a BA in moral philosophy and logic. She came first in the entire University in 1901 and was awarded a fellowship in Gujarat College. She and her sister, Sharda Mehta, thus became the first two Gujarati women graduates.

Vidya Gauri became a member of the Ladies Club, Ahmedabad, which had Hindu, Parsi, Muslim and Christian members. This brought her into the public arena. When the Indian National Congress Annual Session was held in Ahmedabad, she and her sister sang ‘Vande Mataram’ from the dias. She started tailoring classes for poor Muslim women with support from the National Indian Association. She also organized adult education classes and various activities for the War Relief Fund during World War I, for which she was made an MBE (Member of the British Empire) and awarded the Star of India. She returned this award when Gandhiji was arrested during the Salt Satyagraha. She started the Ahmedabad Branch of the All India Women`s Conference. She was an active member and President of this Branch for many years and presided over the Lucknow session of the AIWC. She was associated with numerous educational institutions such as the Maganbhai Karamchand Girls’ High School, the Diwalibai Girls’ School, Ranchhodhal Chhotalal Girls’ High School and the Vanita Vishrams which provided secondary education to women who were widows or dropouts from school because of marriage.

In Ahmedabad she founded the Lalshanker Umia Shanker Mahila Pathshala, which was later affiliated to SNDT (Karve) University. She taught English, Psychology and Philosophy in this college. She was Honorary Secretary and then President of the Mahipatram Rupram Anath Ashram, an orphanage named after her father-in-law. She was also member of Victoria Jubilee Hospital, Ranchodhlal Chhotalal Dispensary and various other charitable and philanthropic organizations. She presided over the 15th session of the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad. She was a prolific writer and contributed to women’s magazines such as Gunsundari, Streebodh, Sharda, etc. With her sister she translated R.C. Dutt’s The Lake of Palms.
 
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