Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi: The First Indian Female Doctor of Western Medicine

Let’s celebrate National Doctors' Day, a day dedicated to honouring the contributions of physicians to society, by learning about India’s first female doctor of Western medicine, Dr. Anandibai Joshi.

Srushti Pathak
New Update
Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi

Ganpatrao Joshi held his newborn daughter, Yamuna, in his hands for the first time on March 31, 1865. He could have never imagined that his little girl would change the world by becoming India’s first female doctor. Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi, her struggles, motivation, the challenges she faced and the journey in the field of medicine; all of it is a fascinating tale. So today, on the occasion of Doctors' Day, let’s learn about Dr. Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi.

Child Bride to a Progressive Husband

Yamuna turned into Gopalrao Joshi’s wife, Anandi at the young age of nine. At the time when women weren’t even seen outside the kitchen, Gopalrao Joshi (or Joshee) proved to be a progressive and supportive husband who recognized and nurtured Anandibai's intellectual potential. This progressive postal clerk posted in Kalyan was a true supporter of women's education. After marriage, he enrolled his wife Anandi in a missionary school. Later, he was transferred to Alibaug and then finally, to Kolhapur. The couple later moved to Calcutta. Anandi continued her studies in the city and learned to speak Sanskrit and Hindi.

Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi

Loss that Turned Grief into Passion

At the age of 14, Dr. Anandi lost her first and only child, a boy, due to a lack of proper treatment. This proved to be a turning point in her life and inspired her to become a physician. Back in those times, women who showed an inclination to treat patients were encouraged to take up midwifery. Though they could enroll themselves in a doctor’s course in Chennai, the professors taught female pupils half-heartedly. But Gopalrao encouraged her to study medicine.

The Never-Before Travelled Road

The missionary school did not work out for Dr. Anandi. As an upper-caste Hindu woman, the only way to get properly educated in the field of medicine was to travel abroad. Christian women managed to find support in the British Raj. But the educational and career dreams of Hindu women were considered to be public scandals and their dreams were crushed with haste.

Despite wide protests, stone pelting at the postal office where Gopalrao worked, and abusive comments, the couple moved ahead with her plan of pursuing medicine abroad. Their goal was to come back to India, fully trained, to successfully treat patients here. In 1880, Gopalrao sent a letter to Royal Wilder, a well-known American missionary. In this letter, he stated his wife's interest in studying medicine in the United States and inquired about a suitable post in the US for himself.

Women Empowering Women

The couple sought the help of Presbyterian missionaries. The editor of Princeton's Missionary Review published Dr. Anandi’s story and Gopalrao’s letter asking for help. A New Jersey resident named Theodocia Carpenter came across the request while flipping through the pages of the journal during her dentist’s appointment. This stranger wrote back offering help. Dr. Anandi and Theodocia’s friendship ensued over letters. When Anandi finally reached New York in 1883, she was welcomed by her loving 'aunt' Theodocia.

Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi
Anandibai Joshi with her batchmates Kei Okami and Sabat Islambooly of Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania

Rock Solid Determination

From her host’s home, Dr. Anandi wrote a letter to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. It was one of the world’s first women’s medical colleges founded in 1850. Today, the institution is part of the Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia. Dr. Anandi’s qualifications in English, arithmetic, and history and her ability to converse in seven languages did not give her a strong chance of admission, but her intent certainly did.

Dr. Anandi began her medical training at the age of 19. She turned out to be one of the sincerest students. Once, she impressed her instructor by being the only one in the class to sit through the autopsy of an infant while his cadaver was being dissected. She received her degree in medicine in 1886. Her thesis, 'Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos' included information from Ayurvedic texts and American textbooks. By shedding light on childbirth practices in India, she sought to challenge prevailing stereotypes and misconceptions about Indian culture within Western medical circles.

The dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania was very happy and informed Queen Victoria, the then Empress of India, about Anandi’s accomplishments. And the Queen sent her a congratulatory message! The Albert Edward Hospital in the princely Indian state of Kolhapur expressed the desire to appoint Anandi as physician-in-charge of the women’s wards and also wanted her to train female students to become general practitioners.

As Luck Would Have it

Before she could return to India, Dr. Anandi contracted tuberculosis. In those times, this was a deadly disease that did not have much of a cure. It worsened in America’s frigid winters. Dr. Anandi returned to India in late 1886, receiving a grand welcome. She even started practising at Albert Edward Hospital, rising in fame for her determination and hard work to make her dreams come true.

However, just a few months after returning to India, a month short of her twenty-second birthday, tragedy struck. Dr. Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi passed away on February 26, 1867, in her mother’s arms.

Though Dr. Anandi died an untimely death, she was the trailblazer of women’s education abroad and is still an inspiration for all the female Indian-origin doctors. In her honour, a 34.3 kilometre-diameter crater on Venus is named ‘Joshee’.

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