Serampore College the oldest institution imparting western education in India, is a living memorial to william carey, Joshua Marshman and William Ward. They founded the college in 1818 to impart training to Indian Christians in order to create a truly indigenous Church. But it had other aims too. The outstanding one was to simultaneously offer courses in Eastern Literature and Western Science to Asiatic Christians and other youths. The hindu college which was offering secular education at that time was exclusively reserved for a few affluent upper class students.
Carey and his associates felt the need for establishing an institution made accessible to all. The founders bore the cost of Rs 1,50,000/- from their own earnings for the construction of the college building. It remains the only institution in India where Religion, Arts and secular subjects are taught simultaneously.
The college commenced with only 37 students. The classes were held at the missionary building. The design of the building was by a Dane named Major Wickedie and was later approved by Lord hastings. The front iron gate and two beautiful staircases were gifts of the king of Denmark. In 1822 the two-storied college building with its majestic Ionian pillars and impressive portico was completed on the west bank of the river Hughli covering seven acres of land, a gift of the Danish Government. The classes were shifted to the college building and the mission library was housed on the vast ground floor.
Soon John Mack, a science scholar from Edinburgh, joined the first three missionaries. These four missionaries laboured together with great harmony and assiduity. Mack was the first educationist in India to introduce sophisticated instruments and use the mother tongue in teaching science. But in 1823, two great calamities - the sudden death of Ward and the devastating floods of serampore - hit the college hard. To save the college from an acute financial problem, the Missionaries sent Marshman in 1826 to the King of Denmark to seek help. The king offered help and granted a Royal Charter in 1827 empowering the Serampore College to confer degrees upon its pupils. It thus became the first institution in Asia to grant degrees. In 1833, Carey drew up the Regulations and Statutes of the college. But on 8 July 1834 the college got the rudest shock at the death of Carey. After this, the college suffered due to a severe financial crisis, the end of Danish rule in Serampore in 1845, and the premature death of John Mack. In 1857, under Principal Denham, the Serampore College became affiliated to the newly founded Calcutta University.
The Baptist Missionary Society closed down the secular section and converted the college into a purely theological institution when Summer was its principal. From 1883 to 1895 the college passed through very difficult days. But a new era for the college began in 1906 with the arrival of George Howell, who is widely known as the second founder of the college. His untiring efforts brought about great changes in the college structure as well as in its function during 1910-1911. The Higher Theology Department was opened. Arts and Science Departments were re-affiliated to Calcutta University and Hostel and Laboratory buildings were erected. Serampore College came to be known as the Oxford of Bengal. In 1915 the college began to confer the degree of Bachelor of Divinity and it was a landmark in its history. In 1918, the Sadler Commission spoke highly of the college.
Howell had to struggle hard to keep up the academic standard of the college and in 1924 it got the university affiliation in BSc. Some eminent teachers, viz Biren Ghoshal, Haripada Shastri, Radharaman Ganguly, Kalikrishna Mukherjee and many others joined the college. However, the Howell era ended in 1929 when Dr Angus took over.
During the Second World War the Government requisitioned the building for housing an Army Hospital. Even then the college maintained its normal activities in a scattered way through the zeal of Angus, MN Biswas and many other teachers. A large part of the library was shifted to chandarnnagar . During these trying times, the college introduced co-education in 1943 with eight girl students in the I A class. Another innovation was the use of oral tests in place of written examinations because of a paper crisis.
The modern period of the history of Serampore College began after the de-requisition in 1946, a period that synchronised with the Independence of India in 1947. Serampore College, throughout its existence, has lived up to the ideals of its founders who preached: 'Expect great things from God, Attempt great things for God'. [Prafulla Chakrabarti]