To encourage widow remarriage Dhondo Keshav Karve, a social reformist, set up the Widhawa Wiwahottejak Mandali in 1893. The year 1896 marked the beginning of a new era in the history of women’s education in India when he established an ashram for widows and helpless women at Hingne near Pune. He realized that to make these women self-sufficient, reliant and confident, schooling was essential at the ashram. Karve launched a programme of schooling there, which later became a regular school for girls and women. After reading about the Japan Women’s University, he had a dream of establishing a women’s university. In December 1915 Karve, in his presidential address to the National Social Reform Congress in Bombay, announced his decision to shape his dream into reality. In 1916 the university started with the enrollment of five students. Karve did not wait for the government permission for funds. The University expanded rapidly when in 1920 an industrialist and philanthropist, Sir Vithaldas Thackersey, donated Rs. 15 lakh.
The vision of Maharashi Karve and the foresight of Sir Vithaldas Thackersey led to the establishment of the first women’s university in India called ‘The Indian Women’s University’. In 1931 the University established the first college in Mumbai. Thereafter, in 1936 the University was shifted to Mumbai from Pune and in 1949 the Government of India recognized it as a statutory university. In 1951 the university was named Shreemati Nathibai Damodar Thackersey Women’s University, in the memory of Thackersey’s mother. Maharshi Karve received Bharat Ratna in 1958 for his contribution towards women’s education.
Today, the University has an enrolment of over 70,000 students. It has three campuses, located at Churchgate, Santacruz-Juhu, Pune. It has 26 colleges, 38 university departments, 11 undergraduate colleges and 38 postgraduate departments. The university continues to manage three secondary schools for girls, which it had inherited.