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Women in Medicine: a Look at the Life and Times of India’s First Female Doctor, Anandibai Joshi

She was the first Indian woman to graduate with a two-year degree in western medicine in the United States.

In India, medicine is still a male-dominated industry in spite of the fact that the number of women enrolling for medicine is increasing every year. However, there was a time when a female physician was unheard of. During those times, Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi became the first Indian woman to graduate with a two-year degree in western medicine in the United States. Born on March 31st, 1865, in Kalyan, Maharashtra, Anandibai is considered to be the first female doctor of India.

 

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As was the norm during the nineteenth century, Anandibai was married off at the tender age of nine to a widower, Gopalrao Joshi, who was 30 years old at the time. He was a staunch supporter of women’s rights and played a pivotal role in Anandibai’s career as a physician.

 

 

At the age of 14, Anandibai gave birth to a baby boy but lost him within 10 days of birth due to lack of medical care and facilities. Unable to bear the trauma, she decided to pursue medicine so that such unfortunate events could be prevented in the future. Her husband decided to back her decision and enrolled her in missionary schools. When that didn’t work out, the duo moved to Kolkata, where she learned to read and speak Sanskrit and English.

 

When Anandibai was ready for college, her husband wrote a letter to Royal Wilder, an American missionary, enquiring if his wife could move to the US to become a doctor. In her application, Anandibai had mentioned that she wanted to help Indian women by offering medical aid that they’d rather die than receive from male physicians. Her application was accepted and at the age of 19, Anandbai began her formal medical training at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), which is now known as Drexel University College of Medicine. Her dissertation was titled ‘Obstetrics among the Hindu Aryans’.

 

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During her stay in the US, Anandibai battled with poor health due to the cold weather and an unfamiliar diet. She even went on to suffer from tuberculosis TB, however, that didn’t deter her from completing her MD in medicine. Her journey was so inspiring that upon her graduation, Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message.

 

After completing her education, she returned to India in 1886. She was appointed as the physician-in-charge at the Albert Edward Hospital, Kolhapur, Maharashtra. However, a year later, in 1887, she died of TB. Her dream of opening a women’s medical college remained unfulfilled. Her death was mourned throughout the country and to honour her, her ashes were eventually placed in a cemetery in Poughkeepsie in New York. Till this day, the Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences, an NGO in Lucknow, awards the Anandibai Joshi Award for Medicine in honour of her contributions to the field of medicine.

 

While Anandibai lived a short life, she’s an inspiration to women who have been told that they can’t achieve their goals just by virtue of their gender.