NIVEDITA, Sister (1867-1911)
Plaque erected in 2017 by English Heritage at 21A High Street, Wimbledon, London SW19 5DX , London Borough of Merton
Educationalist and Campaigner
Education, Philanthropy and Reform, Religion
SISTER NIVEDITA (MARGARET NOBLE) 1867-1911 Educationalist and Campaigner for Indian Independence lived here
Sister Nivedita is one of the most influential female figures in Indian history. In addition to campaigning for Indian independence, she worked tirelessly in education reform and joined Swami Vivekananda in promoting the Hindu philosophical movement Vedanta in London. Nivedita is commemorated with a blue plaque at 21A High Street in Wimbledon, where she and Vivekananda stayed with her mother and sister in 1899.
Margaret Elizabeth Noble was born in Dungannon, County Tyrone – now in Northern Ireland. She spent several years in an orphanage school in Halifax, England, before taking up a series of teaching posts. The death of her fiancé prompted a period of religious scepticism during which she studied different religions and engaged in the intellectual scene in Liverpool. She studied the progressive educational theories of Pestalozzi and Froebel and came to believe in the fundamental importance of nature, art and drawing in educating the young.
In about 1891 Noble was invited to become co-head of a new school in Wimbledon, which put these principles into action, before opening her own kindergarten in the area a few years later. This was followed by the Ruskin School, which she also opened to adults who wished to study the progressive educational methods. In 1895 Noble co-founded the Sesame Club, a meeting place for teachers and parents interested in ‘New Education’.
In November 1895 Noble met the Hindu teacher Swami Vivekananda. Vivekananda was the chief disciple of the mystic Ramakrishna and was enormously influential in introducing Hindu philosophies to the west. Captivated by his message of religious universalism and philanthropy, Noble helped Vivekananda organise the Vedanta movement in London before persuading him to let her come to India in 1898. Vivekananda wrote to her:
I am now convinced that you have a great future in the work for India. What was wanted was not a man but a woman; a real lioness, to work for the Indians, women especially.
He initiated her as a brahmacharini (a female disciple) and named her Sister Nivedita or 'The Dedicated'. Nivedita opened a girls' school in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and assisted in relief work organiSed by the Ramakrishna movement, particularly during the bubonic plague epidemic in 1899. She also began to lecture on Hindu culture.
She returned to London with Vivekananda in July 1899, when they both stayed at her mother’s home at 21A High Street. Vivekananda left London for the United States soon afterwards, and Nivedita followed in September. Coming back to London in 1900, she stayed at number 21A periodically throughout the next couple of years before returning to India.
After Vivekananda’s death in 1902 Nivedita severed her connection with the Ramakrishna movement, which banned involvement in political activity, and turned her efforts to promoting the cause of Indian independence. She also re-launched her school, which was expanded to include classes for married women, and promoted traditional Indian art and architecture. She collaborated with Ernest Havell, Principal of the Government School of Art in Calcutta from 1896 to 1905, who developed a style of art and art education based on Indian rather than western models, and Ananda Coomaraswamy, who is credited with introducing ancient Indian art to the west. She also collected Indian myths and stories, and was one of the first to propose a design for a national flag, which was presented at the Indian National Congress meeting in 1906. Weakened by previous attacks of malaria and meningitis, which she contracted while working in the famine- and flood-stricken parts of East Bengal in 1906, Nivedita died of dysentery in Darjeeling on 13 October 1911.