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Dr. Anandibai Joshi

Anandhibai JoshiDr. Anadibai Joshi was one of the first Indian woman to receive education abroad and obtain a medical degree through Western medicine. Anadibai was born in 1865 in a very conservative Maharashtrian family. That time, most of the Indian families were orthodox and education among women was not common. As per the customs then, she was married at a very young age of 9 years to a very elderly widower who was 20 years older to her.  Her husband Gopal Rao  was a progressive thinker, and supported the education of women, which was not very prevalent in India.

Noticing Anandibai's interest in acquiring education, he helped her receive education and learn English. He took it on himself to teach her English. Gopal would take his young wife for long walks during which his teaching sessions continued. He was convinced that learning English was more important than learning Sanskrit. But Anandibai confessed that learning from her husband was not easy. He would hit her with pieces of wood or books. At a very young age of 14,  she gave birth to their first and only child. The infant survived only 10 days, but in her grief Anandi turned her thoughts to what could have been done to save her child: she became convinced that if there had been a female doctor available, the child might have lived. At 14, she became determined to become a doctor.

Gopalrao encouraged his wife to study medicine. He wanted to send her abroad for medical studies, even though they had no money. He wrote to a missionary friend Royal Wilder in the US, asking for help to admit Anandibai to a medical school, and also find a job for himself. They offered the help only on the condition that the couple would convert to Christianity. But They declined the offer. Wilder published the correspondence in his publication, Princeton's Missionary Review. A woman named Theodosia Carpenter happened to read the correspondence and was very impressed with the couple. She wrote a letter to Anandibai stating her desire to offer Anandibai accommodation in USA. They exchanged many letters discussing Hindu culture and religion. They also discussed about early marriages and its effect on women’s health, of the status of women in society and various other women’s issues.

During the couple's stay in Calcutta, Anandibai's health was declining. She suffered from weakness, constant headaches, occasional fever, and, sometimes, breathlessness. The medicines that Theodosia sent did not do much good. In 1883, Gopalrao was transferred to Serampore, and at that time, he decided to send Anandibai alone to America for her medical studies despite her poor health. Anadibai was not ready, however, Gopalrao was determined to send her to America.

The couple's decision made the conservative Hindu community furious.  They became the target of the anger of these people and at times were also attacked. Anandibai addressed the community at Serampore College Hall. She promised the crowd that she would not covert. She explained them the pressing need for Hindu female doctors. After her return form America, she was planning to open a medical college for  women in India. She received many financial aids after her speech.

So in June 1883 at the age of nineteen, a frail but determined Anandibai set her jouney to USA, along with two friends of Theodosia. She got admission to the first Women’s Medical Program offered by the University of Pennsylvania. She even won a scholarship of $ 600/- for three years. Her dissertation was on “Obstetrics among the Hindu Aryans.”

But the unbearable cold and the unfamiliar diet took a toll on her already declining health. She contracted tuberculosis. But she was determined to complete her Medicine studies.  She graduated with an M.D. on March 11, 1886. Her husband and a social reformer Pandita Ramabai were present at this function. Even Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message. The Philadelphia Post wrote, “Little Mrs. Joshee who graduated with high honours in her class, received quite an ovation.”

She returned to India and was appointed as 'the physician-in-charge' of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital, Kolhapur. But it was unfortunate that Anadibai could not fulfill her dreams of providing her services to the women in India.   The illness took over and she died at the early age of 22 in February 26th, 1887. Her death was mourned all over India. Her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpeer, who placed them in her family cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Anadibai is a true inspiration to all the young girls who strive hard to get education. She has made us believe that dreams are within your reach, if your are determined.


Dr. Anandibai Joshi