In a country whose history spans hundreds of years of exponential inequality, where customs and culture have a strong influence on the social and political life of the people, the social mixture cobwebs make it difficult for a woman to escape discrimination and reach better opportunities to empower themselves. In times when society was largely patriarchal and conservative, there was a woman who not only braved the most stringent odds but also etched her name in the field of science.
Dr Anandibai Joshi is the first Indian female physician. The Venus crater named as Joshee is a tribute to Anandi Gopal Joshi. Born on 31 March 1865 in Kalyan, Maharashtra, Anandibai was married at the age of nine to Gopalrao Joshi who was twenty years senior to her. He also helped her receive education in medicine.
Gopalrao encouraged Anandibai to study and in 1880 sent a letter to a well-known American missionary Royal Wilder stating that his wife Anandi had an interest in studying medicine in the United States and inquired if there was any suitable post for himself. Wilder offered to help the couple on the pretext that they convert themselves to Christianity, but it was not acceptable to Gopalrao and Anandi.
Under Wilder’s guidance, Anandibai published a correspondence in Princeton’s Missionary Review. Impressed with the theory, a resident of New Jersey Theodicia Carpenter wrote to Anandi and Gopalrao offering them accommodation in America. Gopalrao couldn’t go but sent Anandi despite her poor health. He convinced Anandi to study and set an example in the society by pursuing higher education.
In America, Anandi was advised to apply in Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The society in India censured her knowing that she will pursue the studies further. Many people supported her decision in America but wanted her to convert to Christianity.
Anandibai addressed the community and explained her desire to go to America and obtain a medical degree. She stressed on the need of Hindu female doctors in India and talked about the goal of opening a medical college for women in India. She also pledged that she would not convert to another religion.
Anandibai travelled to Newyork in 1883. There she wrote to the Medical College of Pennsylvania about her desire to study medicine from the College. The dean of the college happily received her. She joined the college at the age of 19 and was graduated with MD ( Doctor of Medicine) on 11 March 1886. Her health had significantly declined due to cold and unfamiliar weather and diet.
Queen Victoria had also sent her congratulatory message on her graduation.
Anandibai came back to India in 1886 and the princely state of Kolhapur, Maharashtra appointed her as the physician in charge of the female ward at Albert Edward Hospital.
Anandibai passed away on 26 February 1887 before she could turn 22. The whole country mourned her death, and her ashes were sent to Theodocia Carpenter who placed it in the family cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York.
She lived a mere 21 years but achieved more than most of us do in our entire lifetimes. A crater on Venus is now named in her honour. The 34.3 km-diameter crater on Venus named ‘Joshee’ lies at latitude 5.5° N and longitude 288.8° E.
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