Today, February 26, marks the death anniversary of Anandi Gopal Joshi, India's first female doctor and one of the earliest female physicians in the country. Also referred to as Anandibai Joshi, she was the first woman from the erstwhile Bombay presidency (present-day Maharashtra) to study and graduate with a two-year degree in western medicine in the United States.
Originally named Yamuna, Joshi was born on March 31, 1865, and brought up in a Marathi Brahmin family. As was the tradition during that time, she was married at the age of just nine to Gopalrao Joshi, a postal clerk and a widower almost twenty years older than her. After marriage, Yamuna's husband renamed her 'Anandi'. Gopalrao Joshi was a strong supporter of women's education, and since this was considered unusual at that time, he was considered a progressive thinker.
What Inspired Her To Pursue Medicine?
Anandibai gave birth to a baby boy at the age of just 14, but the child could not survive more than ten days due to a lack of medical care. The incident was a turning point in Anandi's life and inspired her to do something about healthcare in India. After Gopalrao tried to enrol her in missionary schools and did not work out, they moved to Calcutta. There she learned to read and speak English and Sanskrit.
In 1880, Gopalrao sent a letter to Royal Wilder, a renowned American missionary, stating his wife's interest in inquiring about a relevant post in the US for himself. Wilder published the correspondence in his Princeton's Missionary Review. Theodicia Carpenter, a Roselle, New Jersey resident, happened to read it while waiting to see her dentist. She wrote to the former, impressed by Anandibai's desire to pursue medicine and Gopalrao's support for his wife. Carpenter and Anandibai developed a close bond and came to refer to each other as "aunt" and "niece."
While the husband-wife duo was in Calcutta, Anandibai's health started deteriorating. She suffered from constant headaches, weakness, occasional fever, and breathlessness. Theodicia sent her medicines from America but unfortunately showed no results. In 1883, Gopalrao was transferred to Serampore, and he decided to send his wife by herself to the US for her medical studies despite her poor health condition. Though concerned, Gopalrao convinced her to set an example for other women by pursuing higher education.
Anandi Gopal Joshi applied to the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania and was granted admission. Upon learning Anandibai's plans to pursue higher education in the West, orthodox Indian society strongly criticised her. Later, she addressed the community at Serampore College Hall, explaining her decision to go to America and obtain a medical degree. She emphasised the need for female doctors in India, emphasising that Hindu women could better serve as physicians to their counterparts. Her speech received wide publicity, and financial contributions started pouring in from all over India.
In March 1886, Anandibai graduated with an MD. The topic of her thesis was "Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos", and her thesis utilised references from both American medical textbooks and Ayurvedic texts. On her graduation, Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message.
In late 1886, Anandibai returned to India and received a grand welcome. The princely state of Kolhapur appointed her as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital.
Anandibai died of tuberculosis early the following year, on February 26, 1887, in Pune before turning 22. Her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpenter, who placed them in her family cemetery in New York.
Despite practising medicine for only two to three months, she rose to fame for her sheer determination and hard work to become the first Indian female to study western medicine and a source of inspiration to all others who came after her.
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