Did you know that A crater on Venus is named after this first female doctor from India
Female doctors are not something unusual in India. Almost every hospital or clinics have female doctors nowadays. But if we were to find a female doctor in India in nineteenth century, it was surely a miracle.
In the current, modern India, women are getting equal opportunities as men and excelling in every area possible. But back in old times, the condition was not the same. Women were not considered to be fit enough for outside work. Their sole responsibility was to manage their home and look after others.
In those times, A woman named ‘Anandibai Joshi’ not only broke all the gender biases and travelled to United states of America to pursue a degree in Medical science, but also became the first Indian Lady to set foot in United States. Later she became the first qualified female doctor from India.
Anandibai was born as Yamuna in 1865 in an orthodox Brahmin Indian family in Kalyan. Following the pressure from her family, Anandibai was married at a tender age of nine to Gopalrao Joshi, who was 20 years older than her.
Gopalrao, who worked as a postal clerk in Kalyan, was a progressive thinker and supported education for women, which was a taboo among the Hindus in India at that time. After the marriage, Gopalrao changed his wife’s name Yamuna to Anandi. He took great care of his bride. During his leisure hours, Gopalrao started teaching Anandi to read and write Marathi and English. He instilled in her a desire to learn more.
Gopalrao was an obsessed man. One day, when she was found helping her grandmother in the kitchen, Gopalrao flew into an uncontrollable rage and beat the young girl with a bamboo stick. The neighbourhood was agog: husbands beat wives for not cooking — but whoever had heard of a wife being beaten for cooking when she should have been reading. (source)
Over the time, Anandibai evolved into an intellectual girl with good knowledge of English.
When Anandibai was 14 years old, she gave birth to a baby boy. Unfortunately, the boy died in just 10 days because of non-availability of proper medical help. This proved to a turning point in Anandibai’s life. This was when she decided to became a physician.
Gopalrao, in this situation, proved to be the biggest inspiration for Anandi. She encouraged her to study medicine. In 1880, he sent a letter to Royal Wilder, a well-known American missionary, asking if he could help Anandibai in studying medicine in the United States. Wilder offered to help if the couple would convert to Christianity. This proposition, however, was not acceptable to the Joshi couple.
However, Wilder published the correspondence in his, ‘Princeton’s Missionary Review’ magazine. The correspondence caught the attention of Theodicia Carpenter, a resident of Roselle, New Jersey. She was impressed by Anandi’s will to pursue medical career. She decided to help her.
Meanwhile in Calcutta, Anandi’s health was rapidly declining. For once, she was reluctant to travel to America. But with the encouragement of her husband, she travelled alone to America to pursue her Medical studies despite her poor health.
Upon reaching America in June 1883, she was received by Mrs. Carpenter. Mrs. Carpenter also arranged Anandi’s admission to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Here is an extract from Anandi’s letter of application to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania:
[The] determination which has brought me to your country against the combined opposition of my friends and caste ought to go a long way towards helping me to carry out the purpose for which I came, i.e. is to 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. The voice of humanity is with me and I must not fail. My soul is moved to help the many who cannot help themselves.
In America, Anandi remained austere and simple. Her lifestyle did not change and she continued to wear the typical 9-yard Maharashtrian saree. Unfortunaely, her declining health worsened because of the cold weather.
Over the time, she completed her medical course and passed her MD degree with First Class. She received a standing ovation when the president of the college honored her:
I am proud to say that today should be recorded in golden letters in the annals of this college. We have the first Indian woman who is honoring this college by acquiring a degree in medicine. Mrs. Anandi Joshi has the honor to be the very first woman doctor of India.
Even Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message. The Philadelphia Post wrote,
Little Mrs. Joshee who graduated with high honours in her class, received quite an ovation.
She returned back to India in 1886. Her homecoming was celebrated with grand reception.
Shortly after her comeback to her homeland,her fate played a cruel role. She contracted Tuberculosis. Her health started deteriorating further in the absence of money. Nobody came forward with monetary help in spite of all the achievements she brought for India.
Lokamanya Tilak, Editor of “Kesari”, wrote a heartfelt of letter to her:
“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. It came to my knowledge that you need money desperately. I am a newspaper editor. I do not have a large income. Even then I wish to give you one hundred rupees”.
After reading Tilak’s letter, Anandi wept. She said:
“This penury, this begging for charity, no, no, I can’t bear it any more. What was I, and what has become of me? I am not a beggar’s daughter. None of my family was ever a beggar. I am a landlord’s daughter. That people should take pity on me and offer me money for my bare existence, how can I live with all this? God is so cruel, why does he not relieve me of all this?”
A few days later, on February 26, 1887, Anandibai bade us farewell. Her death was mourned throughout India.
In India, Joshi’s life story became the basis for a 1992 novel and subsequent award-winning play (and was nearly turned into a movie). In America, the feminist Caroline Healey Dall wrote a biography of the young doctor as early as 1888, full of praise for Joshi’s “high-born consciousness.”
Though, she left us at the age of 21 only, her achievements are humongous. In her honor, A crater on Venus was named after this daughter of India. The 34.3 km-diameter crater on Venus named ‘Joshee’ lies at latitude 5.5° N and longitude 288.8° E.