Dr. Anandibai Joshi, the first Indian woman to study medicine in US, is little known beyond these lines. Here I attempt to put forth her historic journey from an ordinary Marathi girl to the first Indian female doctor….a journey people should know about, not just in Maharashtra but the whole country.
Anandibai, originally Yamuna, was born on 31st March, 1865, in Kalyan, Maharashtra. As was the practice of that time, she was married at the tender age of 9 to Gopalrao Joshi, a widower almost 20 years elder than her. She was renamed as ‘Anandi’ by her husband. Gopalrao Joshi was a progressive thinker, a fervent proponent of women’s education. It was his condition that Anandibai should continue her schooling & learn English. He often used brute force to make sure that she studied well.
However, it was her own decision to become a doctor. This interest was sparked after she lost her baby boy shortly after his birth. She wanted to address the dearth of female doctors in the country, having learnt during her pregnancy how difficult it was for women to allow male physicians to examine them. Her husband supported and encouraged her to study medicine. Theodicia Carpenter, from New Jersey, who read about the couple’s attempts to come to the west in local ‘Princeton Missionary Review’ publication offered support.
A physician named Thorborn suggested that Anandibai apply to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. On learning of Anandibai’s intentions to pursue higher education in the west, the orthodox Indian society censured her very strongly. Anandibai then addressed the community at Serampore College Hall, explaining her decision to go to America & obtain a medical degree. She stressed the need for female doctors in India. Her speech received publicity & financial contributions started pouring in from all over India. Gopalrao was transferred to Serampore, and he decided to send Anandibai by herself to America for her medical studies despite her poor health.Though apprehensive, Gopalrao convinced her to set an example for other women by pursuing higher education.
Anandibai travelled to New York from Kolkata by ship, champeroned by 2 female English missionary acquaintances of the Thorborns. She began her medical training at the age of 19. In America her health worsened due to cold weather and unfamiliar diet. She also contracted tuberculosis. Nevertheless, she graduated with an MD in March of 1886. She also received a congratulatory message from the Queen Victoria on her graduation. In late 1886, she returned to India, receiving a grand welcome. She was appointed as physician-in-charge of the female ward of Albert Edward Hospital in the princely state of Kolhapur( in Maharashtra).
However she died of tuberculosis early next year on 26th February, 1887 before turning 22. Her dream of opening her own medical college for women was left unfulfilled. Her death was mourned over by the entire nation. As a mark of respect, her ashes were placed in a cemetery in Poughkeepsie in New York.
In her honour, the Institute for Research & Documentation in Social Sciences(IRDS) , an NGO in Lucknow, still awards the ‘Anandibai Joshi Award for Medicine’. Even the Government of Maharashtra established a fellowship in her name. A crater on Venus has been named in her honour, as ‘Joshee’.
Anandibai Joshi still inspires & will continue to inspire generations of women to pursue their higher eduaction, their dreams & to stay firm on their decisions for the sake of achieving them.
— By Srushti Gangurde