Bethune School 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 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 Calcuta in1849 and named it as the Hindu Female School.
The Bethune School started with twenty-one girls on a plot of land donated by Raja Dakshina Ranjan Mukherjee at Mirzapur in Calcutta. Bethune passed away on 12 August 1851, but Lord Dalhousie, the then governor general of India, took the responsibility to carry forward the mission.The school was shifted to a new building on the West of Cornwallis Square, where its foundation stone was laid on 6 November 1850.
In 1856, the Government took charge of the Hindu Female School, and later renamed it as Bethune School. After that the Managing Committee of the school was formed in due course, with Pandit Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar as the Secretary of the school. During August 1878, Banga Maha Vidyalaya, which was founded by Miss Annette Akroyd with the help of Durgamohan Das, Anandamohan Basu and Dwarka Nath Ganguly, merged with Bethune School.
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.