The great escape! At the age of 22, the young Ambedkar came to Columbia, and began to make the intellectual and personal connections that shaped the rest of his life. He experienced what it was to be free--for a time--from the stigma of untouchability.
"[Parents] can mold the destiny of children, and if we but follow this principle, be sure that we shall soon see better days; and our progress will be greatly accelerated if male education is pursued side by side with female education, the fruits of which you can very well see verified in your own daughter," Ambedkar writes from New York in a Marathi letter to a friend of his father. "Let your mission therefore be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you." (--slightly edited from the translation in Dhananjay Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971 , p.27; Dr. Ambedkar contributed extensively to this biography.)
"My five years of staying in Europe and America had completely wiped out of my mind any consciousness that I was an untouchable, and that an untouchable wherever he went in India was a problem to himself and to others. But when I came out of the station, my mind was considerably disturbed by a question, 'Where to go? Who will take me?'...[ the story is continued in Part Two of Waiting for a Visa]
Shivram Janba Kamble, another early caste reformer, organized a second Mahar conference at Jejuri; this resulted in a memorandum sent to the British government. Young Bhimrao met the reform-minded Gaikwar of Baroda, Sayaji Rao III (r.1875-1939), who then approved a scholarship of Rs. 25 a month for his education. (K. N. Kadam, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Significance of his Movement: A Chronology, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1991, p. 71.)
Bhimrao [an early photo] passed the B.A. Examination (special subjects: Economics and Politics) from Bombay University, and prepared to take a position in the administration of Baroda State [Imperial Gazetteer] [Imperial Gazetteer map]. His oldest son, Yashwant, was born. (K. N. Kadam, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Significance of his Movement: A Chronology, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1991, p. 71.)
He had barely begun at his new post when he learned by telegram that his father was gravely ill; he rushed home just in time for a last farewell. "It was February 2, 1913, the saddest day in Bhimrao Ambedkar's life." (--Dhananjay Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971 , p.24; Dr. Ambedkar contributed extensively to this biography.)
The Gaekwar of Baroda announced his decision to offer scholarships to send students for higher education at Columbia University. A scholarship of 11.50 British pounds a month, for three years, was awarded to the young Ambedkar. (K. N. Kadam, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Significance of his Movement: A Chronology, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1991, p. 72.)
"Receives Baroda State Scholarship to join the Political Science Department of the Columbia University as a Post Graduate Student where he worked under Professors Seligman, Clark, Seager, Moore, Mitchell, Chadwick, Simkovitch, Giddings, Dewey and Goldenweiser." (Source: a curriculum vitae from the 1920's, preserved in the Columbia University archives, that was almost certainly prepared by Dr. Ambedkar himself.) NOTE: he was in fact admitted to the Graduate School in general (things were less compartmentalized in those days) and not formally to a "political science" department.
Arriving in New York during the third week in July, Bhimrao was housed in Hartley Hall [site]. But he didn't care for the food, and only stayed for a week. In August he moved from Hartley Hall to "Cosmopolitan Club" (554 West 114th Street) [photo], a housing club maintained by a group of Indian students. He finally settled in a dormitory, Livingston Hall (since renamed Wallach Hall [site], with his friend Naval Bhathena, a Parsi; the two remained friends for life. (Dhananjay Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971 , pp. 26-27.)
"'The best friends I have had in life,' Dr. Ambedkar says, 'were some of my classmates at Columbia and my great professors, John Dewey, James Shotwell, Edwin Seligman, and James Harvey Robinson.'" (Source: "Untouchables' Represented by Ambedkar, '15AM, '28PhD," Columbia Alumni News, Dec. 19, 1930, page 12, from the Columbia University archives.)
At Columbia: Prof. John Dewey:
One of the major philosophers of education of the twentieth century, John Dewey (1859-1952) [site] became one of the young Ambedkar's heroes. Writing in 1936, Ambedkar referred to the work of "Prof. John Dewey, who was my teacher and to whom I owe so much." (Annihilation of Caste, Section 25.)
At Columbia: Profs. Shotwell and Robinson:
Another of the young Ambedkar's mentors, Prof. James Shotwell (1874-1965) [site] was a Barnard historian who specialized in international relations, and a former student of Prof. James Harvey Robinson (1863-1936) [site], Barnard's first historian--who himself was another of the mentors named by Dr. Ambedkar.
At Columbia: Prof. Edwin Seligman:
A friend of Lala Lajpat Rai [site], the well-known economist Edwin R. A. Seligman (1861-1939) [site] became a particularly sympathetic mentor to the young Ambedkar, who continued to correspond with him for years.
At Columbia: coursework:
During his three years at Columbia (including summers) his coursework consisted of: 29 courses in economics, 11 in history, 6 in sociology, 5 in philosophy, 4 in anthropology, 3 in politics, and 1 each in elementary French and German. (Source: Office of the Registrar, Columbia University.)
The young graduate student passed his M.A. exam in June, majoring in Economics, with Sociology, History, Philosophy, and Anthropology as other subjects of study; he presented a thesis, "Ancient Indian Commerce." For his outstanding achievement, he was honored by students and professors of the Faculty of Arts at a special dinner. In 1916 he offered another M.A. thesis, "National Dividend of India--A Historic and Analytical Study"; it was this one that later became the nucleus of his Ph.D. dissertation. (Dhananjay Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971 , p. 29.)
On May 9th, he read his paper "Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis, and Development" before a seminar conducted by the anthropologist Prof. Alexander Goldenweiser (1880-1940) [site]. Dr. Ambedkar was very proud of this paper, and remained so. He promptly got it published in the Indian Antiquary (May 1917). As late as 1936 he wrote that only shortage of time prevented him from reworking Annihilation of Caste so as to include in it this early seminar paper (Preface to the 3rd edition, Annihilation of Caste).
In June he went to London, and in October he was admitted to Gray's Inn [site] for Law, and to the London School of Economics and Political Science [site] for Economics, where he was allowed to start work on a doctoral thesis. He often worked in the British Library Reading Room [site].
The term of his scholarship from Baroda ended, so that he was obliged to go back to India in June with his work unfinished; he was, however, given permission to return and finish within four years. He sent his precious and much-loved collection of books back on a steamer--but it was torpedoed and sunk by a German submarine. (Dhananjay Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971 , p. 32.)
He was appointed Military Secretary to the Gaikwar of Baroda; he had agreed to join the Baroda service as a condition of his scholarship. But this experience was not a happy one. Even to reach Baroda, he had to pay his own expenses; he used the damages paid by Thomas Cook and Company for his torpedoed luggage. And when he arrived in Baroda, things went from bad to worse.
Meeting in Calcutta with Annie Besant [site] as its President [site], for the first time in its history the Indian National Congress adopted a resolution endorsing "the justice and righteousness of removing all disabilities imposed by custom upon the Depressed Classes." (K.N. Kadam, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Significance of his Movement: A Chronology, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1991, p. 74.)
After the Baroda fiasco, he tried to find ways to make a living for his growing family. With the help of Parsi friends, he became a private tutor, and found some work as an accountant. He also started an investment consulting business, but it failed when his clients learned that he was an untouchable. (Dhananjay Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971 , pp. 37-38.)
Finally he became Professor of Political Economy in the Sydenham College of Commerce and Economics [site], in Bombay. (This position came about through the recommendation of his London acquaintance, Lord Sydenham, former Governor of Bombay.) He was mostly successful with his students, but some of the other professors objected to his sharing the same drinking-water jug that they all used. (Dhananjay Keer, Dr. Ambedkar: Life and Mission, Bombay: Popular Prakashan, 1971 , p. 39.)
In the new Journal of Indian Economies (1,1), he reviewed a book by Bertrand Russell: "Mr. Russell and the Reconstruction of Society." And in the new Journal of the Indian Economic Society (1, 2-3) he published "Small Holdings in India and Their Remedies."
He testified both orally and in writing before the Southborough Committee [site], which was investigating franchise matters in the light of the planned Montagu-Chelmsford reforms. He demanded separate electorates and reserved seats for the untouchables: "The real social divisions of India then are: (1) Touchable Hindus. (2) Untouchable Hindus. (3) Mohammedans. (4) Christians. (5) Parsees. (6) Jews." (--from the transcript of the proceedings, Jan. 27, 1919). Discussion: Chandrabhan Prasad; Syed Amjad Ali.