Bethune College owes its origin to John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune (1801-1851), who was born in Ealing, England. John was a brilliant student. He was educated at Westminster School, graduated from Trinity College, and later qualified for the Bar to secure an administrative position in Parliament. He was sent to India in 1848, as Law Member of the Governor General’s Council. While in India, he willingly undertook the presidency of the Council of Education, apart from his normal official duties. He was keen to spread education among the women and to eradicate the social evils. He felt that the illiteracy is the main reason and the root of female abuse and oppression in India. He also believed that, Indian women desperately need to be educated for their awareness and the ability to voice their protest and solve their problems. With encouragement, cooperation and active participation of the great social reformers like Ramgopal Ghosh, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Pandit Madan Mohan Tarkalankar, Raja Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee, and others, John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune finally established the first school for girls in Calcutta in1849 and named it as the Hindu Female School.
In 1856, the Government took charge of the Hindu Female School, and later renamed it as Bethune School. The Managing Committee of the school was also formed with Pandit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar as the Secretary of the school. During August 1878, Bethune School was merged with Banga Maha Vidyalaya which was founded by Miss Annette Akroyd with the help of Durgamohan Das, Anandamohan Basu and Dwarka Nath Ganguly.
It is to be noted that, Bethune School was the first school for girls in Calcutta who had the distinction and honour of sending up the first woman candidate, Kadambini Ganguly, for the Entrance Examination of the University of Calcutta in 1878.
When Kadambini Ganguly (nee Basu) passed the Entrance Examination, College classes were arranged for her in Bethune school itself, to enable her to pursue her studies for the F.A. Examination. That was the beginning of the Bethune College. After that, for many more years, this College remained the only one institution in India for imparting higher education to the girls. Later, Kadambini Ganguly was joined by Chandramukhi Basu in 1881. It is remarkable to note that, both of them were graduated in 1883 and thus became the first female graduates of Calcutta University.
Bethune College has celebrated 137 long years of tireless journey for advancement of knowledge and enrichment of the soul.