The tyrants of our past treated the culture of literacy and learning, reading and writing, as dangerous. For women, too, participating in progress and democracy meant in the first place being literate, having opinions, and becoming part of the world of letters.

Women’s education is an important part of feminist history, perhaps even the most important for the quiet and dramatic ways in which it transformed everyday life. To pursue education, Nepali women had to go against the common wisdom that saw girls’ education as an aberration, a waste, or even a threat to social order.

Feminist pioneers in Nepal all emphasised education as the key to overcoming women’s subjugated position in society. From the middle of the 20th century, circumstances began to change and women started attending schools and colleges in ever-growing numbers. Teaching in schools also became the most significant route for women to begin their professional lives. This series brings together some glimpses of the past that capture the outward surge of girls and women through the life of study and learning. It also shows how schools uniquely fomented a collective experience for women.

Kathmandu, 1965. An instructor and students at Padma Khanya College. Photo credit: Nepal Picture Library.
Tansen, Palpa, 1965. Elementary school girls at an Education Day celebration. Photo credit: Nepal Picture Library
Banepa, Kavrepalanchok, 1966-'67. Eighth grade girls of Azad High School. Photo credit: Nepal Picture Library
Butwal, Rupandehi, 1975. A training seminar for primary school teachers. Photo credit: Nepal Picture Library
Butwal, Rupandehi, 1975. Fourth grade girls of the Lower Secondary School. Photo credit: Nepal Picture Library
Kathmandu, February 24, 1975. A girl scout on the streets on the coronation day of King Birendra. Photo credit: Nepal Picture Library
Kathmandu, 1972. Sulochana Manandhar and Astalaxmi Shakya, among other students of Ratna Rajya Lakshmi Girls’ College. Started in 1961, RR College taught humanities and social sciences only in the morning to accommodate women with busy domestic and professional schedules. Photo credit: Sulochana Manandhar Dhital Collection/Nepal Picture Library
Syangja, 1983. Laxmi Karki with Draupadi Gurung and Durga Gurung, who became close friends while living as tenants in Syangja to prepare for the SLC exams. All three were active members of the Communist-influenced All Nepal Independent Student Union from a young age. Photo credit: Laxmi Karki Collection/Nepal Picture Library
Jhapa, circa 1993. Women pick up pen and paper to become learners and gain literacy in a multi-generational setting. Photo credit: LACC Collection/Nepal Picture Library
Kathmandu, circa 1935. Chandra Kanta Devi Malla, known as the first “guruama” of Nepal, with other instructors and students. At a time when public education was seen by the ruling elites as perilous and girls’ schools unheard of, Chandra Kanta managed to convince the Rana government against odds to let her open a girls’ school in Makhantole. Photo credit: Chandra Kanta Devi Malla Collection/Nepal Picture Library
Chautara, Sindhupalchok, 1969. A student (holding her books) and a teacher, with Shree Krishna Ratna High School in the background. Photo credit: Nepal Picture Library
Silgadhi, Doti, circa 1967. Students standing “at ease” in the courtyard of their school, waiting for a programme to begin. Photo credit: Nepal Picture Library

These images are part of the ongoing Feminist Memory Project, which were under exhibition during Photo Kathmandu.

This article first appeared on The Record.