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Margaret Eddy:
First Principal of Kodai School

(Excerpts from a talk given to KIS students in the chapel during Founder's Week, October 1997, by Bonnie Belle Pickard and John Chote; taken from Kodai Alumni Magazine, Spring, 1998)

Margaret Eddy was born on Nov. 14, 1848 in Ohio, and moved to Kansas in 1856. She went to school in Leavenworth, KS with William Cody, better known as "Buffalo Bill." At age 14 she went to Elmira College and then began a teaching career at age 16. She saved money to go to Vassar but could not graduate because of astigmatic eyes. Unfortunately there were no corrective lenses at that time. She married George Eddy when she was about 24 and ran a drug store. They had three sons, George Sherwood, Dana, and David Brewer. Mr. Eddy died suddenly in 1894, leaving her with comfortable resources. She and the boys pledged to live economically and to contribute the rest to humanity. In 1900, Mrs. Eddy went to India to visit her missionary son, Sherwood. While there, she saw a great need for English-medium education for children of missionaries so that they could live in India (instead of boarding in US or England) and be prepared for further education abroad.

Mrs. Margaret Eddy, 1848-1935
First Principal of Kodaikanal School

Highclerc Hotel, what is now the Administration building, rented one room to Mrs. Eddy for Rs. 15 a month. On July 1, 1901, a school opened with 13 pupils ages 8 to 14. The four staff members included Mrs. Eddy (principal), Miss Churchill (teacher), Mrs. Jeffrey (housemother), Miss Thompson (music teacher).

"Early morning the pupils had to line up in the front hall at the tap of a bell and Mrs. Eddy would go down the line inspecting their necks, ears, fingernails, and shoes. On one occasion when the bell was rung, a little boy had a brief interview with her just before inspection began, and then whispered that he had been excused for the school because he had a stomach ache. By the time Mrs. Eddy had started down the line she discovered an epidemic of stomach aches had attacked the school. To the students' great astonishment she had a great sympathy that lasted to the end of the inspection line. They were all excused from school! It was hard for them to appear afflicted in the view of their delight, but the next minute their joy was slackened. She announced that everyone was to be bundled up in steamer rugs and set in easy chairs out on the large verandah. When she had all properly tucked in, she disappeared for a moment and returned with a huge twelve ounce castor oil bottle and a tablespoon. The castor oil lasted as far as her sympathy had lasted and not one was overlooked. From that day onward the school was surprisingly free from stomach ailments."

Mrs. Eddy's rigid standards of honesty are among the most vivid of all her "children's" memories of her. There was to be no beating around the bush, no hedging, and no qualifying of direct answers. Those who DID try to cheat Mrs. Eddy never slept on comfortable beds until they confessed.

But that is not saying she was not the source of much fun at Highclerc. When she came to kiss her "children" good night they would crawl under the blankets and put their feet on the pillows to be kissed. She always pretended it was a huge joke on her and acted as if it were a surprise and had never happened before.

The next year, the hotel owner, a Miss Orlabar, saw the success of the school and raised the rent to Rs 150 a month. Mrs. Eddy promptly moved the school to Rock Cottage. Within the next year, Miss Orlabar had decided to sell Highclerc Hotel. For one thing, business was off, and she had a spiritual awakening in which she realized that such sports as tennis were the work of the devil, and even at that time there were tennis courts at Highclerc! She was also convinced that the Second Coming of Jesus was imminent and she began selling off her property as rapidly as possible.

Mrs. Eddy took up the challenge and spent the next year traveling back and forth between Kodai and America trying to raise funds to purchase Highclerc Hotel. Once she interviewed a rich woman to ask her help in raising the money needed, some $10,000. When the woman mailed her a check for $100, she sent it back with a note saying,: "How shall I ever raise the needed sum when you, from whom I expected so much, send me only a hundred dollars?" As soon as this was in the mailbox, its writer suffered torments of doubt and misgiving, but by return mail the rich woman sent $1000!

By 1903 the funds had been raised, and Highclerc was purchased. Most of the rooms were used as dormitory rooms with one room as an office, another for a dining room and a third for a social room. A large rose garden occupied the space where Alumni Hall now stands. As the school continued to expand, Airlee and Barton were purchased (Barton was eventually demolished and Kennedy built in its place). A little later, Wilson House was purchased. It now houses the VP, Dean, and Chaplain's offices.

Mrs. Eddy served as Principal of Highclerc without salary until she developed a neurological disorder which forced her to return to the US. There she continued to support the school through active fundraising efforts.

Mrs. Eddy was one of those petite, quick-moving persons that suggested a wren. Her interest in others was so keen that she completely forgot herself, and it fell to her relatives to insist that she have sufficient and proper clothing. She said once, "My daughter-in-law took me last week to buy a dress. I don't like the present styles. I will not have mine short or narrow, and I WILL have a pocket." She preferred cotton stockings to silk so that she could give the money saved to help struggling students.

The three characteristics that people remembered most were her love, her loyalty, and her enthusiasm. None that came in contact with her ever forgot her. She could forget herself, and whatever there might have been in her life of either joy or sorrow, in giving herself to others. Full of activities, determined that the things she believed in should result in deed, she gave herself no rest until the thought was carried out in useful service. Mrs. Eddy was completely dedicated to the school. She planned for it, raised money for it, wrote about it, helped recruit for it, remained acquainted with its alumni, criticized and complimented it, and constantly donated to it.

Margaret Eddy died in September 1935 from cancer. In her will, she requested that her diamond ring be sold and the proceeds given to Kodai School for any of its needs. In May of 1936, the Council of the School reflected on the lack of a permanent place of worship on the campus, students and staff having worshipped in the social room, the classrooms, the KMU, and the gym over the years. With this in mind, the Council designated the money from the diamond ring be used to start a fund to build a chapel for "Mother Eddy's children." Her sons, Brewer and Sherwood, also pledged money to the project.

Ninety-six years later, we are all still "Mother Eddy's children." We all profit immensely from the energy and enthusiasm she put into making a dream of providing education for children in India come true. Perhaps the only way we can thank her now is to commit ourselves to looking at the needs of others--and then committing ourselves to meeting those needs. In that way, we can each contribute to the legacy of Margaret Eddy, and make the world a better place.