Follow The Light
|Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo 7
|Founder||Marie Musaeus Higgins|
|Principal||Mrs. S. Dandeniya|
|Age||3 to 18|
|Colour(s)||Gold & Blue
Musaeus College is a Semi-Government girls' school in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and was named for Mrs Marie Musaeus Higgins (1855 – 10 July 1926) from Wismar in Germany, its Principal from 1895 to 1926. Musaeus College is now a academic institution with more 7,000 girls from ages 3 to 18, and managed by a board of trustees. The school's motto is "Follow the Light".
The origin of the school can be traced to the Women's Education Society of Ceylon, whose mission was to improve educational opportunities for girls, with instruction in English along Buddhist principles. It had the backing of the Buddhist Theosophical Society, which previously founded the Ananda College for boys along similar lines. With help and guidance from Peter De Abrew and Colonel Henry Steel Olcott, they founded the Sangamitta Girls' School at Tichborne Place, Maradana, around 1890, and wanted a European lady as its Principal. Colonel Olcott found a suitable candidate in Kate F. Pickett, the daughter of Mrs Elise Pickett, President of the Melbourne Theosophical Society. Miss Pickett arrived in Colombo on 10 June 1891 and had apparently settled in to life in the school's boarding house when she was found on the morning of 24 June 1891 drowned in a well in the school grounds.
Marie Musaeus Higgins, after whom the College was subsequently named, was the daughter of Theodor Musaeus, Chief Justice of Wismar in Mecklenburg, Germany. After having graduated and obtaining the title of Frau Professor, she proceeded to the United States of America and was engaged in educational work there. She married Anton Higgins, an engineer in the US army and a Theosophist. He died less than four years later. Following an advertisement by Col. Olcott in The Path (the magazine of the Buddhist Theosophical Society), she left for Ceylon, arriving on 15 November 1891.
The Musaeus Buddhist Girls' School started in a very simple and modest ‘mud hut’ which served both as living and teaching quarters with 12 students. The ‘hut’ was replaced by a brick building in the year 1895 as a result of a donation from Mr. Wilton Hack. He was a recent convert to Theosophy and around 1892, while in Colombo on his way home to Australia, Hack observed the work being carried out by Mrs. Higgins ("Sudu Amma" to her students), and decided to become involved in its development. He was to remain on the board of trustees until his death in 1923.
The lack of sufficient classrooms had stood in the way of Government assistance. Whenever Mrs Higgins had approached Mr. J. B. Cull, Director of Public Instruction, for funds she was told that without a permanent building she was ineligible for a Grant. Once the fine new hall with its upper storey to serve as a teaching hall and extra dormitory was completed, an annual Government grant to the school followed.
Teachers’ Training School
The demand for women teachers for Sinhalese Buddhist Girls’ schools being great, Mrs. Musaeus Higgins was approached by the Manager of those schools to open a Training College to train women students as school teachers. This work was begun in 1908 with the approval and sanction of the Government. This College was now sending out annually a number of trained teachers as Head-Mistresses of Buddhist Sinhalese Girls’ Schools, situated out of Colombo. There was a Practicing School attached to the Training College. Not only did it form and indispensable adjunct to the College, but also the mean of giving a free education in Sinhalese to the children in the neighboarhood. The work of the Musaeus Buddhist Girls’ College was thus confined to:-
English College Kindergarten on Modern Lines Training College for women (Sinhalese) Practising School (Sinhalese) Works on Buddhism
Mrs. Higgins’ historical studies induced her to study Buddhism and in her later years Mrs. Higgins was engaged in the task of compiling books on Buddhism “Poya Days” and “Jataka Mala” (a translation of the Jataka Stories) are two of her popular books. Mrs. Higgins had planned to issue a series of plays called “Ceylon Historical Plays”. She published one or two of them and they were even acted out under her own supervision by the girls of Musaeus College. Her simplicity of style had a special appeal to children for whom most of her books were written.
As a social religious worker, Mrs. Higgins was held in high esteem. Her life was entirely devoted to the cause, which she represented. In later years, she was not in the best of health-due to a life of strenuousness and hard work. The climate of Colombo did not agree with her and during the greater part of the year she lived at “Musaeus Cottage”, Diyatalawa. Later she was compelled to give up the Principalship of the school and become the Director.
During the last few days Mrs. Higgins was rather seriously ill. She had more than one relapse and her condition continued to give anxiety. At the time of her death, her niece, Miss. Schneider who arrived from Germany, was personally looking after her, and was by her bedside at the end of her life. Mrs. Higgins died at the age of 71.
At a time when Western influences were becoming widespread, Mrs. Higgins encouraged her students to uphold their traditional customs, manners and culture. She made religious activities an integral part of the school curriculum.
After 33 years of service Mrs. Higgins died in 1926.
‘Founder-Father’ of Musaeus
Peter De Abrew was the eldest son of William de Abrew. He was one of the pioneers of the Theosophical Society of Ceylon. De Abrew became actively involved in the movement started by Colonel Henry Olcott and others towards the regeneration of the Sinhala nation, its religion and culture which had deteriorated during the last decades of the 19th Century together with his father, William de Abrew, who was himself a member of this movement donated their own land to build a Buddhist Girls’ School. Marie Musaeus Higgins and Peter De Abrew started their school in 1891, in a little thatched mud-walled hut where Musaeus stands now.
In 1940 Peter De Abrew died at the age of 78.
|Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins||1893 – 1926|
|Mrs. A E Peterson||1926 – 1928|
|Mrs. Stevens||1928 – 1930|
|Mrs. Sujatha Nimalasuriya||1930 – 1947|
|Mrs. Majorie Davidson (Acting)||1946 – 1947|
|Mrs. Seela Munasinghe (Acting)||1948|
|Mrs. Clara Motwani||1948 – 1954|
|Mrs. B. I. Ratwatte||1954 – 1959|
|Mrs. Regina Perera||1959 – 1965|
|Mrs. Dulcie Ganendra De Silva||1963 – 1972|
|Mrs. Kamala Rajapakse||1972 – 1980|
|Mrs. Irene Abeysekera||1980 – 1981|
|Miss C. K. Abayaratna||1981 – 1994|
|Mrs. N.K. Pilapitiya||1995 – 2008|
|Mrs. S. Dandeniya||2009 to date|
Religious education and training
Buddhism has a pre-eminent place in all school programmes, and is a compulsory subject in the curriculum in all grades. The school day begins with a “Bakti-Gee” in veneration of the Buddha, followed by “Pansil”. On the last bell, three “Gathas” are recited paying homage to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Flowers are offered daily by different classes at the College Shrine Room. Once a month, a learned Bhikku is invited to deliver a sermon to both teachers and pupils. An endeavour is made to inspire the students with the tenets of Buddhism and train them according to the Buddhist way of life.
Teaching of English
Special emphasis is given to the teaching of English language. English medium classes are conducted from Grade 4 up to Advanced Level classes. The teaching programme includes training in Speech, in addition to Courses prescribed by the Ministry of Education. The student is also introduced to Literature and reading through a reading programme conducted during school hours.
Distinguished Old Girls
- Vivienne Goonewardena - socialist, feminist, junior minister and Member of Parliament.
- Nita Kumari Pilapitiya - former principle of Musaeus College (1995–2008)
- Trilicia Gunawardena - Stage and screen actress
- Western Women Construct the Eastern Wife and Mother Allen, Douglas Religion and political conflict in South Asia: India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka accessed 25 September 2011
- The Pickett Tragedy The Theosophist Vol XIII No. 4 January 1892 accessed 20 September 2011
- 'Sudu Amma' starts a school for Buddhist girls Sunday Times Online 12 November 2006 accessed 25 September 2011
- Nita Kumari Pilapitiya Principal Musaeus College (1995-2008) dailynews.lk