Anandi Gopal Joshi- Ms. Doctor Calling

11th Mar, 2017

| by writesolutions

March is the time of the year when we offer lip service to one half of our society on International Women’s Day, observed on March 8. This piece is also about an unsung woman in history.

The history of Indian women is full of pioneers who have broken gender barriers and made remarkable strides in the field of politics, arts, science or law. Let’s celebrate the memory of the first Indian women to qualify for a medical degree in the US.

Born in 1865 to an extremely orthodox Brahmin family in Maharashtra, Anandi Gopal Joshi, India’s first lady to qualify as a doctor from the USA in 1886, got married to a widower who was almost thrice her age, when she was only nine years old and still playing with dolls. Sounds like the age-old “balika badhu” kind of tale? Not really, when you consider the fact that after opening the flood gates of medical science to so many young women in her country, Anandi died at a very young age of 21. Born with so much promise, imagine all that she could have achieved had she lived a few years longer!

But why did she go so far away for a course in medical science?
Anandibai Joshi answered that in 1883. Before a packed house in Bengal’s Serampore College, with an audience that included the American Consul General “I go to America because I wish to study medicine.”
She went on to add, speaking in a clipped English accent “Ladies both European and Native are naturally averse to expose themselves in cases of emergency to treatment by doctors of the other sex. In my humble opinion there is a growing need for Hindu lady doctors in India, and I volunteer to qualify myself for one.”

She was 18 then and her decision came at a high cost. The townsfolk disapproved of an upper-caste Brahmin woman crossing the forbidden “black waters” and created an uproar. But determined to pursue her dreams, Joshi stated her credentials – she had studied English, arithmetic and history and spoke seven languages. Knowing this would not suffice in impressing her selectors, she implored them to make an exception and consider her purpose which was “to render to my poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician.”
She was granted admission.

A New Jersey resident Theodocia Carpenter once read an article ridiculing a young Hindu woman’s desire to become a physician. Inspired she wrote a letter to her and many years of deep friendship ensued. Three years later, when Joshi arrived in New York without a formal letter of admission, Carpenter, her adopted “aunt”, took her home.
Gopalrao Joshi, Anandi’s liberal husband was another person who stood by his wife’s side and acted as her biggest supporter. A postal clerk, Gopalrao was determined to nourish his wife’s wish to study medicine at the age of 14, after the young couple lost their first child, just 10 days after delivery because of the unavailability of proper medical care.

Anandi studied at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), now rechristened Drexel University College of Medicine. She even won a scholarship of $ 600/- for three consecutive years.

On her graduation, Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message. She completed her thesis on obstetric practices and received a grand welcome back home. The princely state of Kolhapur appointed her as the physician-in-charge of the female ward at the local Albert Edward Hospital. Later, she received a letter from Lokamanya Tilak, Editor “Kesari”, saying, inter alia, “I know how in the face of all the difficulties you went to a foreign country and acquired knowledge with such diligence. You are one of the greatest women of our modern era.”

Unfortunately Anandi contracted tuberculosis before she left for America that worsened during the frigid winters months and her strict vegetarian diet, could provide no sustenance against the disease. A month short of her 22nd birthday, she died in her mother’s arms in India. On Carpenter’s request, Joshi sent his wife’s ashes to America.
In a cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York, a headstone summarizes the life of Anandibai Joshi M.D. (1865-1887): First Brahmin Woman to Leave India for an Education. Though she could not convert her degree into a successful profession due to her untimely death, Anandibai surely left a mark on India’s heart and contributed to a much better, and bolder, India. A Great Woman.

To this day, Joshi remains an inspiration to young Indian women who wish to go abroad to get higher education, and pursue a career of their choice.


Radhika Sachdev

Content Strategist

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