Bethune College, the first college to play a historic role in the cause of women's education in Bengal , started as the Hindu Female School and blossomed into the Bethune School on 7 May 1849. Its founding father, John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune, himself a graduate from Trinity College, Cambridge and the Fourth Wrangler, had arrived in India in April 1848 as the Law Member of the Governor General's Council. He also held the post of the President of the Council of Education. In his pioneering zeal to promote women's education, he received the support of some enlightened Indians like Pandit Madan Mohan Tarkalankar , Ram Gopal Ghosh, Raja Dakshina Ranjan Mukherjee. Pandit Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, “The Traditional Moderniser” was the Secretary of the Managing Committee of the Institution and also one of its chief patrons.
The college started functioning in 1879 with one enrolment, Kadambini Bose. In 1883 she found a fellow student in Chandramukhi Basu, a native Christian girl from Dehradun. In 1883 both Kadambini and Chandramukhi qualified in the degree examinations of the University of Calcutta. By 1887-88 the College Department of Bethune School underwent a radical change, as its students roll now comprised eleven girls, one of them being in the MA class. In February 1888, Bethune College received affiliation to the University of Calcutta up to the BA standard; Chandramukhi Basu who had already completed her MA with Honours in English, became its first Principal.