Born(1886-08-18)18 August 1886
Died20 December 1969(1969-12-20) (aged 83)
Alma materPresidency College, Madras
Occupation(s)Social reformer, educationist, Member of Madras Legislative Council, Madras Presidency
MovementRehabilitation of child widows through education
AwardsKaiser-i-Hind award, Padma Shree award

Sister R. S. Subbalakshmi (sometimes spelled Subbulakshmi or Subhalakshmi) (18 August 1886 – 20 December 1969), was a social reformer and educationist in India.

Early life and education

Subbalakshmi was born at the remote Thanjavur village of Rishiyur,[1] the other view was Mylapore in Madras[2] as the first daughter of Visalakshi and R. V. Subramania Iyer (a civil engineer. Her father, R.V. Subramania Iyer was employed in the Public Works Department of the Madras Presidency),.[3] They belonged to an orthodox Tamil Brahmin family from the Thanjavur district. Subbalakshmi was ranked first in the public examination in the Chingleput District, for the fourth standard of the Madras Presidency at the age of nine.[4] She was married while very young, as was customary, but her husband died soon after.[5] In April 1911, she became the first Hindu woman to graduate from the Madras Presidency[6] and she did this with First Class Honors from Presidency College, Madras.[7]


Young Subbalakshmi

In 1912, she founded the Sarada Ladies Union to provide a meeting ground and platform for housewives and other ladies to promote consciousness among them regarding social problems and to encourage them to educate themselves and the Sarada Illam or Widow's Home,[7] which rehabilitated and educated child widows in Madras.[7] Later, in 1921 [8] or 1927, she established the Sarada Vidyalaya under the aegis of the Sarada Ladies Union.[7] In 1922 she inaugurated the Lady Willingdon Training College and Practice School and was its first principal.[9] She also established the Srividya Kalanilayam, a school for adult women at Mylapore in 1942,[10] and while she was the president of the Mylapore Ladies Club, she formed the Mylapore Ladies Club School Society, in 1956, which was then renamed as the Vidya Mandir School, in Mylapore.[7][11] In addition, she was involved in setting up a social welfare center for women and children in Madambakkam village. near Tambaram, in 1954.[12]

Awards and recognition

The government of the British Raj honoured her with the Kaisar-i-Hind Gold Medal for Public Service in 1920,[citation needed] and in 1958, after independence of India, the Indian Government awarded her the Padma Shri.[13][14]

Political career

While she was in government service as Headmistress of the Lady Willingdon Training College and Superintendent of the Ice House Hostel, Subbalakshmi was prohibited from joining the Women's Indian Association.[9] To keep her school running Subbalakshmi compromised on her beliefs and efforts against child marriage. Nevertheless, using her fluency in Tamil, she made efforts to abolish child marriage and to encourage education of girls. The historic, first conference, of the then newly established All India Women's Conference, called the "All India Women's Conference on Educational Reform", was held at the Fergusson College, Poona in January 1927.[15] Subbalakshmi was one of the fifty eight prominent delegates attending this meeting.[15][16] She actively supported the Child Marriage Restraint Act, passed in 1930, and appeared before the Joshi committee[9][17] which formulated the Act instrumental in raising the marriageable age of girls to fourteen and boys to sixteen. After retirement, she was involved in the activities of the Women's Indian Association, through which she befriended Annie Besant and others. She served as a nominated member of the Madras Legislative Council from 1952 to 1956.[18]


Subbulakshmi died on 20 December 1969 on an Ekadashi Day.[19]


  1. ^ "About Us".
  2. ^ Felton, Monica (2003). A Child Widow's Story. Katha. pp. 13, 14. ISBN 81-87649-91-7.
  3. ^ The Who's who in Madras: ... A pictorial who's who of distinguished personages, princes, zemindars and noblemen in the Madras Presidency. Pearl Press. 1940. p. 247.
  4. ^ Ramanathan, Malathi (1989). Sister R.S.Subbalakshmi,Social Reformer and Educationist. Bombay: Lok Vangmaya Griha. p. 11.
  5. ^ Felton, Monica (2003). A Child Widow's Story. Katha. p. 36. ISBN 81-87649-91-7.
  6. ^ "Madras Musings - We care for Madras that is Chennai".
  7. ^ a b c d e Ramanathan, Malathi (1989). Sister R.S.Subbalakshmi, Social Reformer and Educationist. Bombay: Lok Vangmaya Griha. pp. 24–26.
  8. ^ "About Us".
  9. ^ a b c Forbes, Geraldine (2006) [1996]. Women in Modern India. Vol. 4 (Reprinted ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 57–60. ISBN 978-0-521-65377-0.
  10. ^ Ramanathan, Malathi (1989). Sister R.S.Subbalakshmi, Social Reformer and Educationist. Bombay: Lok Vangmaya Griha. pp. 91–93.
  11. ^ Ramanathan, Malathi (1989). Sister R.S.Subbalakshmi, Social Reformer and Educationist. Bombay: Lok Vangmaya Griha. pp. 101–105.
  12. ^ Ramanathan, Malathi (1989). Sister R.S.Subbalakshmi, Social Reformer and Educationist. Bombay: Lok Vangmaya Griha. p. 123.
  13. ^ Search, Padma Shri Awardee. "Padma Shri awardees list". Retrieved 23 April 2012.
  14. ^ Padma Shri Awardees, Photos of. "Padma Shri Award photo". Government of India. Retrieved 26 April 2012.
  15. ^ a b Ray, Aparna Basu, Bharati (2003). Women's struggle : a history of the All India Women's Conference, 1927–2002 (2nd ed.). New Delhi: Manohar. pp. 23, 213. ISBN 978-81-7304-476-2.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ Besant, Annie (2003). Theosophist Magazine January 1927 – March 1927. Kessinger Publishing. pp. 630–633.
  17. ^ Rappaport, Helen (2001). Encyclopedia of women social reformers. Santa Barbara, Calif. [u.a.]: ABC-CLIO. pp. 652. ISBN 978-1-57607-101-4.
  18. ^ Ramanathan, Malathi (1986). Sister Subbalakshmi Sister Subbalakshmi Ammal Birth Centenary Souvenir. Madras: Sarada Ladies Union.
  19. ^ Rajagopalachari, C (1970). "Sahodari Subbalakshmi Sevai: Rajaji's Garland of Praise". Sister Subbalakshmi Ammal First Commemorative Souvenir (Madras Sarada Ladies Union).

Further reading