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Updated on November 3, 2014

Founder of a Girls' School in India

In 1985 Sister Nivedita met a man who would change her life in dramatic ways. Swami Vivekananda lectured in a house of a wealthy Londoner when she first met him. She continued to ask questions and attended his lectures when he was in London.

Her early life as a child and young woman prepared her for her life's life work: being a founder of a girls' school in the Bagbazar area of Calcutta. Her birth name was Margaret Elizabeth Noble. On October 28, 1867 she was born in County Tyrone, Ireland in a town called Dungannon. Samuel Noble, her father, was a priest and her mother, Mary Isabel, was a homemaker. The Nobles moved to England when she was four years old. Her father died when she was ten years old and was raised by her maternal grandfather, Hamilton, who was a leader of the Irish Freedom Movement. She attended church boarding school in London and Halifax College. The headmistress of the college encourage her to serve humanity. She started teaching at the age of 17 and worked in Keswick as an elementary school teacher. She eventually developed her own school in Wimbledon, wrote on spiritual topics and attended church activities. She became well known among the intellectuals of London for her articles in newspapers and magazines. She was engaged to a young Welsh man, but he died soon after their engagement.

Swami Vivekananda impressed her, and she started to study the teachings of Gautama Buddha in addition to the swami's teachings. The swami was known as a reformer who took the best from the West and the East. He saw great promise in her abilities. He educated her about the dreadful condition of women in India. He established centers in America and lectured there with her to raise money to fund the girls' school in India. Swami told her, "Let me tell you frankly that I am now convinced that you have a great future in the work in India. What was wanted was not a man, but a woman--a real lioness--to work for Indians, women especially." Gandhi was inspired by her greatness. She educated women who later became part of the Indian Independence Movement. Gandhi revived the leadership roles of women in India. Many women in the movement became ministers, diplomats, prime ministers, governors, teachers, social workers, nurses and homemakers who helped build India after independence was achieved.

In March of 1898 the swami introduced her at a public meeting at the Star Theatre in Calcutta. In this same month she met Sarada Devi, wife of Ramakrishna, who became one of her most intimate and dear friends. She was received into Vivekananda's monastic order on March 25, 1898 becoming the first Western woman to join a monastic order in India. She wrote many books in order to raise money for the girls' school she founded. On November 13, 1898 Holy Mother, Sarada Devi, attended the opening of the school Nivedita founded. She blessed the school invoking the blessings of the Divine Mother for all the girls taught in this school.

Sister Nivedita visited many places in India with Swami Vivekananda, Josephine McLeod and Sara Bull to raise money and interest in her girls' school. In Kashmir they stayed in houseboats. She eventually went to America with the swami to raise money and interest in her school.

In 1902 Swami Vivekananda left the Earth plane. Swami Saradananda from Belur Math came to her house with a letter explaining his passing. She went to Belur Math to view his body. On the afternoon of July 5, 1902 he was cremated. She wanted a little cloth of his garment. She had been one of his greatest disciples. When the flame went out in the cremation, she felt someone pull her sleeve. A small piece of his robe came out during the cremation and she took it as a blessing from the swami himself. He personally wanted her to have this memento because of their relationship as guru and disciple.

She worked tirelessly going from home to home educating women about the school and lectured to raise money for the school. Her numerous books raised money for the school. She was a very gifted writer who had a passion for her cause and for the culture and people of India.

She was greatly admired by many intellectuals and artists in India, including Rabindranath Tagore, Jagadish Chandra Bose, Abala Bose, Abanindranath Tagore and Sri Aurobindo. She became involved in the cause of the Indian Independence Movement. Many youth became inspired though her lectures to be involved in the movement. In 1905 Bengal was partitioned and this inspired many to join the movement. She used the song, "Vande Mataram," in her school as a prayer. She also edited Karma Yogin, a newspaper started by Sri Aurobindo, a close associated of Annie Besant.

Some of her most well known books were: The Web of Indian Life, Kali the Mother, The Master as I Saw Him, Notes of Some Wanderings with Swami Vivekananda, The Cradles of Hinduism, Studies from an Eastern Home, Civil Ideal and Indian Nationality, Hints on National Education in India and Glimpses of Famine and Flood in East Bengal--1906. Some of these books are available at libraries and some are available on the internet.

On October 13, 1911, at the age of 43, she died in Roy Villa in Darjeling, India. There is a memorial at the railroad station. Her epitaph, "Here reposes Sister Nivedita who gave her all to India." In 2010 the Sister Nivedita Academy was founded in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. The Board of West Bengal of Secondary Education in Salt Lake, Kolkata (Calcutta) dedicated the school to the memory of this great woman. In 1968 a postal stamp appeared with her image developed by the Indian government to honor her work.

God calls people from different backgrounds, countries and races to do great work to serve humanity and the poor. Women advanced in India because of the efforts of Sister Nivedita and her associates. She also was instrumental as a social worker in conducting relief work with the Ramakrishna Mission concerning the plague and founded the Ramakrishna Guild of Help in the United States. She helped with relief work in East Bengal when floods devastated the area. She raised money to help people in Bengali villages affected by the floods. What a great and wonderful woman!





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