Marie Musaeus HigginsMarie Musaeus Higgins, after whom Musaeus College is named, is indeed a great personality of the 20th Century .The Founder Principal of Musaeus College is remembered with gratitude and affection in many Buddhist homes throughout Sri Lanka. With a rare and unflagging sense of dedication, she served the school and the cause of Buddhist education for 33 years. Her service continued until she passed away 78 years ago, on the 10th July 1926.Mrs. Higgins was the daughter of the Chief Justice of Wismar in Macklenberg, 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 Mr. A Higgins an Officer in the US army. With the demise of her husband she came to Ceylon to help Col. Olcott, in his educational mission towards the upliftment of Buddhist people of Sri Lanka.

Historical works

As an authoress she wrote a series of historical books for the use of schools which are very popular today both among the young as well as the old. Through the media of these books written in the most charming style, the great majority of Buddhists have come to learn something of their early history. Mr. J. Harward one of the late Directors of Education in Ceylon encouraged her to write these books and he wrote a very sympathetic foreward to her first volume.

Founding of the school

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. This temporary ‘Hut’ was soon replaced by a solid small brick building, to accommodate the growing school. That was in the year 1895. It was a memorable year; for then, a kind friend, Mr. Wilton Hack, who was passing through Colombo to London from Australia, called to see Mrs. Musaeus Higgins, a fellow-member of the Theosophical society. The visitor was impressed with the value and the nature of the educational work carried out by Mrs. Musaeus Higgins, and the possibilities of its development.

Encouraging results

It was education on indigenous lines, and education to bring West and East together to work in friendly co-operation. Mr. Hack offered to help. The fact of insufficient accommodation for classrooms also stared the management in the face. Mr. J. B. Cull, Director of Public Instruction, smilingly shook his head every time he visited the school and said, “Now Mrs. Higgins! You build a school hall-and then I will give you a Grant”; It was an anxious time indeed!. Kind friends from abroad and in Ceylon who were watching the rise and progress of the school soon came to its aid and they built a fine hall with an upper storey to serve as a teaching hall and extra dormitory. Mr Cull was delighted to hear that the struggle to find funds for the new school was over, and when he came round to see the school, its Foundress said : “Here is the teaching hall, Mr. Cull! and now I want the grant”. The annual Government grant to the school then followed.

The results of the work of the school were encouraging. It competed with much success with other English Girls’ Schools in all Public Examinations. The year 1897 marks the first success of the school in the Junior Cambridge Local Examination; every year since then the school has distinguished itself not only in the Cambridge Local Examinations, Junior and Senior, but also in the E.S.L.C. and the Royal Academy of Music Examinations.

In 1902, one of the students joined the local Medical College. She was awarded Jeejeebhoy Scholarship. She was the first woman student to obtain this Scholarship and the first Sinhalese Woman student to study medicine.

Another milestone in the cycle of progress dawned in 1903, when a few of our students passed the Government Teachers’ Examination and obtained their Licenses, some to teach English, and others in Sinhalese Schools. In the preceding year, these students qualified themselves in Drawing and passed in that subject in the Examination held by the Government Technical College. These students joined the teaching staff of the school and helped in its work for several years till they returned home to be married.

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 besides at her last stages of life. Mrs. Higgins was only 71 years of age, when she passed away.

One sees in this account the kind of person Marie Musaeus Higgins was. A noteworthy fact of her vision for Sinhala Buddhist education was “education on indigenous lines, and education to bring West and East together and work in friendly co-operation”.

Musaeus as it exists today has gone through many ups and downs, but by and large it still upholds the Marie Musaeus Higgins’ principles and vision and is counted as one of the best Educational Institutions of the 20th century.

At a time, when the people of the country, were blindly imbibing western customs, habits, mode of dress etc., 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 dedicated and admirable service Mrs. Higgins passed away in 1926. With her demise, the resplendent lamp that illuminated Musaeus for over three decades had gone out. However, the strong foundation laid by her was to remain forever… stable and solid.

‘Founder-Father’ of Musaeus ……

Mr. Peter De Abrew ‘the eldest son of Mr. William de Abrew’. He was one of the pioneer stalwarts of the Theosophical Society of Ceylon. Peter De AbrewAs a young, generous philanthropist, he had got actively interested in the movement started by Colonel Henry Olcott & others towards the regeneration of the Sinhala nation, its religion and culture which had sadly deteriorated during the last decades of the 19th Century together with his father, late Mr. William de Abrew, who was himself a member of this movement donated their own land to build a truly Buddhist Girls’ School. Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins and Mr. Peter De Abrew started their school in 1891,in a little thatched mud – walled hut where Musaeus stands now.

In 1940, this grand old gentleman of Musaeus who had sacrificed his entire life and good part of his wealth for Musaeus, passed away at the age of 78 with Musaeus foremost in his thoughts. ‘Musaeus’ and all Musaeites through the ages undoubtedly owe a great deal to the school’s ‘Founder-father’ Mr. Peter de Abrew as much as to its Founder Principal, Mrs. Marie Musaeus Higgins.