Anandibai, first Indian woman to study medicine in the USA

 First Indian Women Doctor. Anandi Gopal Joshi.  Storypick

  A couple of centuries ago, it was considered a taboo to cross the ocean by the conservative Hindu society. When the British ruled India, in the early period, they wanted to send the Indian soldiers  to Burma via the Bay of Bengal for some political reason.The soldiers refused to cross the ocean and preferred overland route to Burma via Assam. For disobeying the military orders, the entire regiment was punished. In a social scenario like this if a woman wanted to go abroad for higher studies, guess how the Indian society of by-gone era would have reacted. In spite of such religious restrictions, in those days there were countless daring women, who were ready to fight for their legitimate rights to pursue their passion.  Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi was a real trail blazer. In the midst  of odds, she went to  the US and completed her degree in medicine at a pretty young age.

Anandi Gopal Joshi  Twitter

In the 1800s, when women had no access to education, Anandi had the unique honor of being the first Indian woman and also the first South Asian female to get a degree in Western medicine. She was the first female of Indian origin to  have graduated with a degree in medicine in the U.S.A. To go one step further, no other Hindu woman of her time had set foot on the American soil for the higher studies. Indeed,  it was a great feat in those days for a women.  

Anandibai, born as Yamuna, in Kalyan, Thane district in present-day Maharashtra, belonged to an orthodox rich Hindu Brahmin family. Because of financial constraints, when she was just 9 years old,  she married one Gopal Rao, a postal clerk, much older to her. After marriage, her name was changed to Ananadi. Her husband, was a progressive thinker and was a supporter of women's equal rights and education.  Upon his transfer to  Calcutta  (Kolkata), he was interested in his wife's education and progress. Knowing the importance of English, being from a respectable Brahmin family, he encouraged her to study English.Though a  victim of  child marriage, she was very fortunate to have an understanding husband who encouraged her in every possible way to chase her dream. As usual, there were some protests in her family and in the community.  She became a mother when she was just fourteen, too tender an age for child-bearing, and unfortunately, the baby died soon after birth. This tragic incident impacted her thinking, however, it became a turning point in her life. This gave her inspiration and she felt a sense of urgency to specialize in medicine so that so many early premature child deaths in India could be avoided .  

 In 1880, her husband established contact with a  well-known American missionary one  Wilder regarding  Anandibai's  interest in studying medicine in the United States. Wilder 's publication in his  Princeton's Missionary Review regarding Anandi's interest in medicine drew the attention of one  Theodicia Carpenter, a resident of Roselle, New Jersey, who  happened to read it while waiting to see her dentist. In the meantime, in an informal meeting in Serampore, WB, Anandi explained to a large gathering  about her firm intention  to go to the US to study medicine and she had a plan to start a Medical college in India upon her return. She stressed  the need for Hindu female doctors in India. The conservative people suspected that she would become a Christian convert in America and to clarify it, she promised them that she won't change her religious faith on any count.  Her  honest speech received  wide publicity, and financial contributions started pouring in from all over India.

Anandibai Joshee

 Above image:  Anandibai Joshee graduated from Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMC) in 1886. Seen here with Kei Okami (center) and Tabat Islambooly (right). All three completed their medical studies and each of them was the first woman from her respective country to  obtain a degree in Western medicine..................................

Anandibai traveled  from Calcutta to New York by ship where she was received by Ms. Theodicia Carpenter  in June 1883 and was admitted to  Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania,  (which was the second women's medical program in the world). Rachel Bodley, the dean of the college, enrolled her. Despite her poor health because of cold climate, she graduated with an MD on 11 March 1886; the topic of her thesis was "Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos".  It was indeed  a great honor that on her graduation, Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message.
Anandibai began her medical education at age 19. Upon her return to India in 1886, in the  princely state of Kolhapur,  she was appointed  as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital.

Tragedy struck the family of Gopal Rao, the man who stood behind his wife like a pillar in her pursuit of medical education. Anandibai died early following year on 26 February 1887 before turning 22. Her unexpected death was mourned throughout India. Her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpenter, a humane soul who helped her a lot while  she was in the US. She placed them in her family cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York. Her unfortunate death at too young an age falls within the realm of Karma. What else can we conclude?