THE STORY OF AN INDIAN TRAILBLAZER
Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi was born on March 31st 1865. She is known as the first Indian female physician alongside Kadambini Ganguly.
In a day when it was unheard of for an Indian female to get an advanced degree, Anandibai broke the trend with the support of her husband. She set an example for India’s youth to question the status quo and reach for the stars.
Today, it’s relatively common for women to pursue advanced studies. But as we march forward in the field of women’s education, let us also take some time to know about those who paved the road for others to walk on.
One such trailblazer is Anandibai Joshi.
Anandibai was originally named ‘Yamuna’ and was born and raised in Kalyan. At one point, her parents faced heavy financial losses. Due to pressure from her mother, she was married of at the age of nine to Gopalrao Joshi, a widower who was about 29 years her senior. Gopalrao Joshi was a postal clerk in Kalyan. He was later transferred to Alibag and then to Kolkata.
After their marriage, her husband renamed her ‘Anandi’. Unusual for that time, he was a progressive thinker and supported education for women. At a later stage, his determination to get his young wife educated helped her become India’s first female doctor.
When Anandibai turned fourteen, she gave birth to a baby boy, however he lived only for ten days due to the lack of medical care. This tragic incident was the turning point in her life.
It was after this incident, that her husband encouraged her to study medicine. In 1880, he sent a letter to Royal Wilder, a well-known American missionary expressing his wife's interest in studying medicine in the US and inquiring about an appropriate post for himself.
Wilder published this letter in his Princeton's Missionary Review. Theodicia Carpenter, a resident of New Jersey, happened to read it while waiting to see her dentist. She was impressed by the couple and Anandibai’s determination to get an education for herself. She wrote to Anandibai.
During this time, Anandibai's health declined severely. She suffered from weakness, constant headaches, fever and sometimes breathlessness. Carpenter sent her medicines from America, however they didn't show much results.
In 1883, when Gopalrao was transferred to Serampore, he decided to send Anandibai to America alone, despite her poor health. The Thorborns, a physician couple, suggested to Anandibai to apply to the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.
Anandibai then went on to address the community at Serampore College Hall, where she explained and reiterated her decision to go to America and pursue medicine as a field of study. Obviously, she faced stiff resistance from the conservative community.
She strongly stressed on the need for female doctors in India, who could play a critical role in ensuring the well-being of Indian women.
Despite many people being opposed to her decision, her speech received publicity and people starting contributing financially from all over India in order to enable her to pursue her medical studies in the United States.
She then travelled to the United States via a ship, from Kolkata to New York. Thus, Anandibai began her medical training at the tender age of 19 after being admitted to the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.
During her stay in America, her health condition started worsening. She was also diagnosed with tuberculosis at that time.
In face of these continued hardships, she graduated as an MD in March 1886 with the topic of her thesis being “Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos”. On her graduation, Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message on her incredible achievement.
In 1886, she returned to India receiving a grand welcome, having captured the imagination of many admirers. She was appointed as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital.
Anandibai died of tuberculosis in the very next year on 26th February 1887, even before turning 22. Though medicines were sent to her from America, they did not help much and India lost a priceless soul.
Her death was mourned throughout the country. Her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpenter, who had been a pillar of support for Anandibai.
Carpenter placed her ashes at the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York. The inscription states that Anandi Joshi was the first Indian woman to receive education abroad and to obtain a medical degree.
This is the story of India’s first female doctor, who continues to inspire us till today.
What did you learn from Anandibai's story?