In 1883 an 18-year-old woman addressed a packed house in Serampore college in Bengal, India. “Igo to America because I wish to study medicine,” she declared. “Ladies both European and Native are naturally averse to expose themselves in cases of emergency to treatment by doctors of the other sex. In myhumble opinion, there is a growing need for Hindu lady doctors in India, and I volunteer to qualify myself for one.” Her name was Anandi Joshi, more commonly referred to as Anandibai Joshi. In 1886 she graduated from Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) and became one of the first Indian women to get a degree in western medicine.
Anandibai was born and raised in a Marathi Brahmin family in India. She was named Yamuna at birth. As was customary in those times, she was married at the age of nine to Gopal Joshi, a man twenty years her senior. Her husband changed her name to Anandi. Unusually for those times Gopal Joshi strongly supported women’s education. At age 14, Anandibai gave birth to a son, who died shortly after because of insufficient medical care. This incident deeply affected her and inspired her to become a doctor. In her letter of application she wrote, “[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. to render to my poor suffering countrywomen 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.”
Several remarkable women studied medicine at the same time as Anandibai at WMCP. Kei Okami and Tabat Islambooly were among the first women from Japan and Syria respectively to get medical degrees and were students at WMCP at the same time. In 1886, the year that Anandibai graduated, Susan La Flesche Picotte became one of the first Indigenous peoples and the first Indigenous woman to start her medical training at WMCP.
Anandibai returned to India in 1886 and was appointed physician-in-charge of the female ward at Albert Edward Hospital. However, after having suffered from poor health all her life, Anandibai died of tuberculosis in 1887. After her death, her ashes were sent to Theadocia Carpenter, a close friend who hosted Anandibai during her stay in the US. Carpenter placed the ashes in her family cemetery at the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Entry courtesy of Nissim Ranade
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