First Indian Doctor Anandibai Joshi’s Biography

Feb/12/2023 / by Swarnendu Biswas
Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Inspiring Indian Woman in Medicine

Anandibai Joshi,whose full name was Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi, was the first female doctor in western medicine from India. She was also the first woman of Indian origin to graduate in western medicine from the United States. She became a doctor at a time when a miniscule percentage of women in India even completed school.

Shewas born on 31st March 1865, in the Kalyan city of the Thane district which is in the present-day state of Maharashtra in India. Born and raised ina Marathi Chitpavan Brahmin family, the original name of Anandibai Joshi was Yamuna.

Tragedy and Resolve

In accordance to the highly regressive and revolting custom of the Indian society of that time, and also due to the pressure from her mother she was married off at a very young age of nine to Gopalrao Joshi. The widower was almost twenty years older than the then child. At the time of his marriage, Gopalrao was working as a postal clerk in Kalyan. After marriage she was renamed by Gopalrao as Anandi.

While reading about Anandibai Joshi we can come to know thatAnandibai became mother of a baby boy at the tender age of fourteen, but due to lack of medical care the child had a life of only ten days. This tragedy became a turning point in her life and inspired her to learn medicine and become a physician. She was fired by the urge to help other pregnant women so that they do not suffer the same tragedy as her.

A Progressive Partner

Gopalrao was far more progressive as compared to the times he was living in and supported education for women, which was a rarity in India in those days. He tried to enroll his wife in missionary schools but was unsuccessful in doing so. The couple then moved to Calcutta (now unfortunately, Kolkata) where she learnt to read and write in Sanskrit and English.

He also encouraged Anandibai to study medicine. In 1880, Gopalrao corresponded with Royal Wilder, a well-known American missionary, stating his wife’s interest to study medicine in the US. Wilder published the correspondence in his Princeton’s MissionaryReview, which was read by Theodicia Carpenter from New Jersey. She got deeply impressed by Anandibai’s fervent desire to study medicine and her husband’s support for his teenaged spouse.

A Girl and a Woman

She wrote to Anandibai and soon the two women from different corners of the planet developed a close bonding. That probably expanded the horizon of the teenager, who was destined to be pioneer. Though Anandibai was suffering from ill health by then in the form of weakness, occasional fever, constant headaches, and occasional breathlessness, but her husband was determined to let his wife go to overseas to study medicine.

With the help of Royal Wilder and Theodicia Carpenter, they contacted a physician couple in the US and Thorborns suggested to Anandibai to apply to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. They also helped her to sail to the US.

However, before her going to the US, Anandibai faced huge criticism and persecution from the then ultra conservative Indian society, where it was unthinkable for a married woman to go to a foreign country alone for studying western medicine.

Generating Awareness

The biography of Anandibai Joshi should mention thatbefore her departure to the US Anandibai did an address at Serampore College Hall, where she explained her decision to go to the US and also discussed the persecution she and her husband had to suffer because of that decision.

In the same address, she emphasized on the need for female doctors in India (which was right), and also stressed that Hindu women could better serve as physicians to Hindu women (which in reality is utter nonsense). 

Nevertheless, her speech garnered publicity, and as a result financial contributions began coming in across the country.

The Voyage to Glory

Anandibai made the long voyage to New York from Calcutta, and in that ship journey she was chaperoned by two female English missionary acquaintances of the Thorborns. The 18-year-old was welcomed in New York by Theodicia Carpenter. After reaching New York, Anandibai wrote to Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania for getting admitted to their medical program and soon she was enrolled in it.

She began studying for medicine at the age of 19. In the US, the cold weather and unfamiliar diet worsened her health. But despite contracting tuberculosis, she got her degree in medicine on March1886. She graduated with an MD in obstetrics. The topic of her thesis is ‘Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos’ where references from both Ayurvedic texts and American medical textbooks were used. Her study to become a doctor deserves further exploration in any good authentic biography of Anandibai Joshi. Even the Queen Victoria gave a congratulatory message to her on her graduation.

Gopalrao joined her in the US. By the time he came she was already Dr. Anandibai Joshi. She returned to India with her husband in late 1886 to resounding waves of welcome. Soon she was appointed by the princely state of Kolhapur as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital.

Untimely Demise

But unfortunately, though she reached zenith of glory but she could not put her knowledge to practical use for many years. Neither she got the time to savor her hard won success story. Tuberculosis claimed the great and short life on 26th February 1887. She died in Pune. The age of Anandibai Joshi at the time of her death was a few days short of her 22nd birthday.

She was feeling fatigued and constant weakness years before her death. Her demise was mourned throughout the country.

Though Anandibai Joshi couldn’t practice medicine for a long period (in fact, she could get to practice medicine for only two to three months) but her achievement inspired millions of Indian women to do so.

FAQs

When did Anandibai Joshi start her career?

She began her career in medicine in late 1886, which lasted for two to three months only.

Who was Anandibai Joshi married to?

She was married to Gopalrao Joshi.

What distinction does Anandibai Joshi hold?

She was the first female doctor in western medicine from India. She was also the first woman from India to graduate in western medicine from the United States.

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