Anandibai Joshi- The first Indian female doctor

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Anandibai Joshi

‘Some heroes don’t wear capes, we call them doctors.’

A doctor plays a key role in any society’s healthcare. The absolute first and the last event of human life are both certified by doctors, whether in maternity wards or morgues. If not every day, one needs a doctor every now and then in their life. Though doctors today are easily accessible with almost 45000 to 50000 doctors being produced by India annually. But going back a century before, this phenomenon was rare, and rarer was a chance to find a women candidate among them. But things changed when a woman from India choose to stand and pursue her passion for medicine.

Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi was the first female doctor of western medicine alongside Kadambini Ganguly. She is also the first woman in India to complete her studies in western medicine from the United States. Her story is both inspiring and tragic as she died just a year later fulfilling her dream. This is her story, a story worth reading.

Anandibai Joshi has a rich legacy and is an inspiration for many women to date.

Born on 31 March 1865 in a Marathi Brahmin family, she was originally named ‘Yamuna’. When she turned nine years old, she was married to a widower named Gopalrao Joshi, who was twenty years older than her. Her early marriage was a result of her mother’s persuasion and the family’s financial conditions.

Unlike many young brides of India, Yamuna was married to a fairly decent man who treated her way better than how other men used to treat their wives during the 1800s. Her husband renamed her ‘Anandi’. Gopalrao used to work as a postal clerk in Kalyan but was transferred several times as a part of his duty. Along with him, Anandi too traveled before finally settling in Kolhapur. Gopalrao was a progressive thinker and highly supported women’s education.

Anandibai Joshi

Anandibai Joshi gave birth to her first child when she turned 14. It was a boy who merely survived 10 days after his birth due to lack of medical care. His death was a big blow for Anandi’s career and inspired her to become a physician. Gopalrao supported her decision and thus in order to enroll her in a missionary school, they moved to Calcutta. Anandibai learned to read and write in English along with Sanskrit.

In the 1880s, it was very rare to find husbands to support their wives’ education, especially in arranged marriages. But Gopalrao was obsessed with Anandi’s education. On one occasion, when he returned home from work, he found Anandi cooking with her grandmother in the kitchen and is believed to go into a rage. He beat his wife for cooking instead of reading, a gesture most common in Indian parents to do in such situations. This means, he also served as a guardian in Anandi’s life and her success.

Her voyage from Calcutta to Pennsylvania

To enroll Anandi into medical school, he wrote a letter to Royal Wilder, stating his wife’s interest in pursuing education in medicine. The letter was happened to be read by Theodicia Carpenter, a resident of New Jersey, who wrote Anandi back and offered to host her stay in the US. In 1883, Gopalrao decided to send Anandi to America all by herself to set an example among the society by pursuing a two-year degree in western medicine.

Upon learning about Anandi’s goal to pursue higher education, the Joshi couple faced a lot of backlash from society. Thus to stress the need for female doctors in the country, Anandi addressed at Serampore College Hall. Her speech received a lot of publicity and funds start pouring in from all over the country.

Anandibai Joshi

Anandibai began her medical training at the age of 19. In 1886, Anandi graduated with an MD from Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. During her stay in the US, Anandibai’s health started declining, she was fatigued and also caught tuberculosis. When she returned to India, Anandibai Joshi received a warm welcome. She was appointed as a female Physician in charge at local Albert Edward Hospital in the princely state of Kolhapur. She also received a congratulatory message from Queen Victoria upon completing her graduation.

A year later of her service at the young age of 22, Anandibai Joshi died of tuberculosis on 26 February 1887, yet her legacy remained. The Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences introduced Anandibai Joshi Award for Medicine to honor her contribution to western medicine. The Maharashtra Government has also established a fellow membership in her name to encourage female candidates working on women’s health.

Anandibai Gopal Joshi’s contribution in encouraging women’s education in India is tremendous. In an era when it was uncommon for women to even step out from their homes alone, she crossed borders and pursued her education on foreign soil. Indeed, Anandibai was a woman of precision and determination.

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