Born to wealthy farmers, Savitribai Phule was married at age 9 to 12-year-old Jyotiaro Phule. Child marriage was a common practice in the 19th century, and many young girls became widowed before puberty due to the high mortality rate. The tradition of shaving the heads of widows sparked Phule to fight against this practice, and led a strike against the barbers to convince them to cease.
Phule opened a care center to help women who were pregnant rape victims. Where society banished these women, Phule’s Center cared for these women and assisted the delivery of their children.
In 1848, Phule and her husband opened a girls school in Pune, and she became its first teacher.
In 1897, Phule’s adopted son opened a clinic to treat victims affected by the bubonic plague. She personally took on patients in the clinic and cared for them, until she unfortunately contracted the disease. She died while she was tending to a plague patient.
Lived: January 3, 1831 - March 10, 1897 (British India)
Why She Matters
During a time when the struggles of women and those of lower castes were widely ignored, Savitribai Phule stood up against injustices and sought to educate women and support those who suffered.
Phule and her husband never had children, but they would eventually adopt a son born to a widowed Brahmin.
Often described as "one of the first-generation modern Indian feminists".
Also sought to abolish unfair treatment towards people based on their gender and social caste (aka “untouchability”); one example of this: people of upper caste refusing those of lower status to share their drinking water, and in response Phule opened up a well in her house for those of lower caste to use.
Was a published poet well-known for advocating for education and fighting against discrimination.