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LAKSHMI N. MENON (1899–1994)

Lakshmi N. Menon was a teacher, lawyer, politician and activist. She was born in Triuvananthapuram, to Rama Varma Thampan and Madavikutty Amma. In 1930 she married Prof. V.K. Nandan Menon, an educationist who was sometime vice chancellor of Travancore and Patna Universities and director of the Indian Institutes of Public Administration. Lakshmi studied at Madras, Lucknow and London, acquiring high qualifications as an educator. She began her career at Queen Mary’s College, Madras, where she taught till 1926, followed by the Gokhale Memorial Girls’ School and then the Isabella Thoburn College in Lucknow. She then practised law till 1935. She was an associate of Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarojini Naidu (q.v.) and Margaret Cousins (q.v.), and these friendships fuelled her desire to do something for India. She was one of the founder members of the All India Women’s Conference, serving for some time as its secretary and president and also as editor of its magazine, Roshni. After Independence she was principal for a while of the Patna Teachers’ Training College. But Jawaharlal Nehru persuaded her to accept an appointment to the Rajya Sabha. Overcoming initial reservations she served well and fully in this post, going to the UN a number of times as Alternate Delegate from India. In 1949-1950 she headed the UN Section on the Status of Women and Children.

Back home, she served in the Ministry of External Affairs as Parliamentary Secretary from 1952 to 1957, Deputy Minister from 1957 to 1962 and Minister of State to 1967. She also toured the world extensively on India’s behalf, on one such tour charged with explaining India’s stand on China at a crucial time in relations with that country. Retiring from political service in 1967, she turned to social work and also to writing, authoring among other things a book on Indian women for the Oxford Pamphlets on Indian Affairs series. She helped to found the Federation of University Women in India. In recognition of her services, the nation awarded her the Padma Bhushan in 1957.
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