This story is about a young girl’s courage, persistence, self-worth, fight for her dream, who undoubtedly grew up to become the first female doctor of India along with a medical degree in western medicine. A female doctor who even received a congratulatory note from Queen Victoria on her graduation. Her name is Anandibai Joshi, who had with her accomplishment, the help of a liberal husband, opened the gates for Indian women who wanted to be more than just housewives.
Originally named ‘Yamuna’, she was born in 1865, in Kalyan. She was customarily married off at the age of 9 to Gopalrao Joshi, a 29-years-old postal clerk, who was also a widower. ‘Anandi’ was the name her husband gave her. Gopalrao Joshi, however, was a liberal and progressive and a champion of women’s education. He encouraged her to continue studying, while the couple moved to Alibag, and eventually, to Kolkata.
Anandibai was 14 when she bore their first child, a baby boy who lived for ten days only due to the lack of advanced science and medicine at the time. This incident shaped the young girl’s beliefs and ambition and inspired her to become a physician and on the insistence of her husband decided to pursue a medical degree. Gopalrao tried to get a spot at US where Anandi wished to study but wasn’t able to find a suitable role. Thus, Anandibai set out to US independently. Anandibai’s decision was profoundly reprimanded by the punctilious Hindu society at the time.
At the age 19, she journeyed to New York from Calcutta by ship, and was enabled to graduate from Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMC) in 1886 (now known as Drexel University College of Medicine), along with three other women – Kei Okami and Tabat Islambooly – who were all their respective country’s first women doctors. Anandi finished her medical degree in 1886 with a thesis on the topic “Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos”.
Newspapers published her achievement as the first Hindu woman from India to receive a medical degree in western medicine. At the convocation, Anandibai’s husband Gopalrao along with Pandita Ramabai (women’s right & education activist) watched her receive the M.D. degree on March 11, 1886. For being the first woman doctor of India, she received a standing ovation.
Anandibai succumbed to tuberculosis within a year of her return on February 26, 1887, just short of her 22nd birthday. The entire country was shaken by her death, and grand tributes were made to her life and work. “Joshi’s young life was tragically cut short when she died of tuberculosis before her 22nd birthday. However, her legacy and the path she paved for generations of women continues today.
The Government of Maharashtra also created a fellowship in her name, specifically for young women working in the sector of women’s health. An award also came to be named after her by the Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences (IRDS), a Lucknow-based NGO – the “Anandibai Joshi Award for Medicine.”