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Olcott Panchama Free Schools

This was a network of schools for the children of the “outcastes,” renamed Panchamas or the “fifth caste.” It was started by Col. Henry Steel Olcott in 1895 with 55 pupils. By 1906, it had grown to 5 schools with 731 students. The names of the schools were Damodar School, Olcott School, HPB Memorial School, New School and Tiruvallurvar School. In 1907, the schools ran at a deficit and an appeal was sent out for donations. Among those who worked tirelessly for this project were S. E. Palmer, N. A. Courtwright, and C. Kofel. But the schools were handed over to the local authorities as time passed and by 1930, only two schools were left, the HPB Memorial School and the Olcott Free School. Later, only one was left, the Olcott Harijan Free School.

Of the Olcott School, Maria Montessori wrote “I am very much moved by the most beautiful way the School is run. The spirit that pervades this is wonderful. There is nothing in this School that I see lacking. The moral training is based on the same principles of ‘Oneness of Life’ or ‘Brotherhood of Man,’ as my own principles for children. The worship of the Motherland and short silent meditation are very valuable. Schools of this kind alone can save India. I wish to work with you in this field. Children are the builders of the future India.” She further wrote “Cleanliness of body and health are not neglected in this institution. For the love of childhood this School gathers all the good that can be found in hygiene and in education.”


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