Anandibai Joshee: The First Female Doctor Of Western Medicine In India

Anandibai Gopal Joshee, born in 1865, was India's first female doctor of Western medicine. She graduated from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886 and served as a physician in Kolhapur. Achieving this was an impossible feat in those times when orthodox society forbade women from studying. She fought against the odds, travelling to the USA without her husband to achieve her dream.
Anandi

Anandibai Joshee graduated from Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) in 1886. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Born in 1865, Anandibai Gopal Joshee was India's first female doctor of Western medicine. At the age of 21, she graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, USA, with a degree in medicine. Born into a Marathi Chitpavan Brahmin family, Anandi was just nine when she was married off to a widower, Gopalrao Joshi, who was more than 20 years older than her. She was named Yamuna Joshi by her parents, but after her wedding, her husband named her Anandi.
Gopalrao worked in the post office as a clerk and was progressive in his thoughts, supporting women's education. The death of her infant son, just 10 days after his birth, became the catalyst for Anandi's interest in becoming a physician. She believed her son would have survived if a competent doctor had been present. She was 14 at the time. Her husband helped her start her educational journey, teaching her English, Marathi, and Sanskrit. He even sent her to Calcutta (Kolkata) from Kolhapur, where they lived, so that Anandi could study and pursue her dream of becoming a physician. Gopalrao's investment in her education was rare in those days.
He sent a letter to one of the Presbyterian missionaries from Kolhapur on the 4th of September, 1878. According to the book, "The Life of Dr Anandibai Joshee," by Caroline Healey Ball, "At all events, his learning and intelligence won a certain hearing for this letter. It was forwarded to the 'Missionary Review' published at Princeton, and printed in January 1879. Gopal expresses a warm interest in female education and says that he would be glad to live in America if his wife could study there. The letter was supported by one of the local missionaries in terms which showed that he based this support on what he thought was a rational expectation of Gopal's conversion."
However, Dr Wilder, the editor of the "Review," did not want any unconverted Hindu to come to America. He had published the letter predominantly for his reply. But this letter became the reason for bringing Anandi to America when the Missionary Review fell into the hands of a lady who felt moved by Gopal's letter. She was Mrs Carpenter, who copied the address from the letter and wrote to Anandi, inviting her to stay at her home in the US. Their exchanged letters impressed Mrs Carpenter, who couldn't believe that a woman dressed in traditional Indian wear could be fluent in English. They started addressing each other as aunt and niece.
During this time, Anandi's health suffered setbacks, and she started to become unwell. Her husband was transferred to Serampore, a city in West Bengal, but he wanted his wife to go and pursue her education in America. She was asked to apply to the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania by a physician couple named Thoborn. However, travelling overseas in those days wasn't considered a good omen, and orthodox society was against it.
Nevertheless, Anandi wouldn't give up and spoke about her desire and need to study in America at the Serampore College Hall. She emphasised the need for Hindu female doctors to serve the women of the community. Her speech had an impact, and people began contributing financially to her education abroad. She finally travelled without her husband to New York by ship, where she was received by Mrs Carpenter in 1883.
Anandi was admitted to the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, which was the world's second women's medical program. Against all odds, she graduated with an MD in 1886, despite suffering from tuberculosis and worsening health. She was even congratulated by Queen Victoria upon her graduation. She returned to India and was appointed physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital in Kolhapur.
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