Anandi Gopal Joshi: Five things you should know about India's first female doctor

Google celebrates life of pioneering medic inspired by personal tragedy to defy cultural expectations

Chris Baynes
Saturday 31 March 2018 14:10
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Anandi Gopal Joshi: Five things you should now about India’s first female doctor

The latest Google Doodle celebrates the 153rd birthday of Anandi Gopal Joshi, India’s first female doctor.

Born at a time when most women in her country did not receive an education, she set sail for America at the age of 18 to study medicine.

She graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1885, becoming the first Indian women to obtain a degree in western medicine.

Although she died young, her determination to challenge gender stereotypes and cultural customs blazed a trail for generations to come.

Here are five things you should know about the pioneering medic.

She was motivated to study medicine by her baby’s death

Joshi was married at the age of just nine, as was common in 19th century India, to a man 20 years older than her.

She gave birth to their first child when she was 14, but her baby son died 10 days later due to a lack of medical care for women. This spurred Joshi to pursue an interest in medicine so she could “help the many who cannot help themselves”, as she later put it in her college application.

Her husband Gopalrao Joshi, a postal clerk, encouraged her ambition and helped to teach her to read and write.

She defied cultural expectations and ill health to qualify as a doctor

While she was supported by her husband, Joshi’s ambitions were condemned by the orthodox Hindu community, who threatened her with excommunication.

Despite that, she travelled to New York in 1883, chaperoned by two English acquaintances of a doctor friend. After arriving in America, she wrote to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania to ask for a place on their medical programme, one of the first in the world that accepted women. In her application she admitted her credentials may fall below the college’s usual requirements but pleaded for them to make an exception “to render to my poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need”.

She was awarded a place, and studied her two-year diploma alongside two of the first female medical students from Japan and Syria. Despite suffering ill health throughout her studies, she graduated on 11 March, 1885.

She was congratulated by Queen Victoria

After Joshi was awarded her degree in medicine, the college’s dean wrote of her achievement to Queen Victoria, who was also Empress of India. Victoria reportedly wrote a congratulatory message in response. Joshi received a grand welcome upon her return to India, where the editor of the Kesari newspaper hailed her as ”one of the greatest women of our modern era”.

Her life was tragically cut short

Returning to India in 1886, Joshi was appointed the physician in charge of the women’s ward at Albert Edward Hospital in Kolhapur. She dreamed of opening a medical college for women, but was an ambition she never got to realise. She died of tuberculosis on 26 February, 1887, before she had even begun practising medicine. She was just 21.

There is a crater in Venus named after her

Joshi is one of a number of notable women who have lent their names to sizeable impact craters on Venus. The 34km diameter crater “Joshee” lies at latitude 5.5° N and longitude 288.8° E. It was named in 1997 by the International Astronomical Union.

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