Dr. Nancie Monelle, first American medical doctor in a princely Indian State

Nancie Monelle Mansell, M.D. en.wikipedia.org
In the colonial period in India, when many missionaries belonging to various denominations landed to preach the Gospel of Christ, it so happened that many of them were male and the Christian missions across India needed the service of medical missionaries to serve well the communities they cared for,

For a woman to work in India as a medical missionary in a remote place or elsewhere was a tough one. Besides getting used to monsoon seasons and  poorly developed places, communication was a  main problem. In addition, they had to change their lifestyle and adjust themselves to the culture there that varied from place to place.

Nancie Monelle Mansell (1841-?), an American physician, a highly spirited woman,  has taken the honor of being the first woman doctor who went out alone into a Princely State to take up a medical job. As a doctor, she fought against Indian child marriages prevailing then, and finally succeeded in raising the marriageable age of girls to 14 years by way of government orders.

Born in 1841, in New York City, Nancie Monelle paternal ancestors belonged to the ancient family of Monelle, of the province of Tours, France. Her father, a distinguished scholar, died when she was a baby. Her great-grandfather came to America with the young Marquis de Lafayette and settled here permanently.

Graduated from the Vassar College and in 1872 from the Woman's Medical College in New York City, taking first prize in surgery Monelle had spent a year in medical practice in a hospital and also in private in New York. The Woman's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church was sending women doctors for overseas medical missionary work and chose Dr. Monelle for an assignment in Lucknow, now in the state of Uttar Pradesh, India. She was sanctified in 1873 in a camp meeting and in the same year she reached India. She was the second physician sent out by the Woman's Foreign Missionary Society. Thus, Lucknow became the second city in India occupied by a woman medical missionary, belonging to the  Methodist Church. 

She became a sort of a trailblazer in her profession and took her medical services into the households which had never been entered by a Christian. Upon completion of her first year, she moved over to Hyderabad, Deccan on an invitation from the royal family. She left the mission and as a courtesy refunded the passage money and extra expenses. A fascinating fact that may look strange now is, as a first lady doctor in a princely state, accompanied by none from her side, she got a taste of royal treatment. Can you imagine that an American lady doctor was provided with elephants, a regiment of sepoys, and a band of music to escort her to the palaces of the various noblemen of the city on medical duty?

At the end of three-year period, with an established hospital and dispensary, she treated more than 40,000 patients, and in between as part of her private practice, she treated innumerable nobles and rich nabobs.  She married one Rev. Dr. Henry Mansell, of the General Missionary Society, and in 1880 moved over to  Moradabad. During her time, the Indian women did not enjoy equal rights and, worst of all, child marriages had been in vogue for some centuries and there were incidences of young girls becoming widows at a very young age. To rub salt on the bleeding injury, there was no such a thing called widow remarriage. In the year 1890, there was an agitation against the baby marriages and this despicable practice and the pains suffered by the young girls at the hands of their husbands drew the attention of  Dr. Mansell who took upon himself the task of putting an end to this ignoble act.  A petition prepared and signed by 55 women doctors under her direction was presented to the Viceroy and Governor-General,  pleading that the marriageable age of girls be raised to 14 years. The helpless child-wives in innumerable cases were subject to ill-treatment and the crimes included maiming, killing, physical injuries, etc. All these horrible cases far beyond one's belief shook the conscience of the society, cutting across religion, etc., and the government received countless petitions  from native Christians, Hindu women, and missionaries. This led to a serious debate in the hall of the Legislative Council that had great influence in bringing about the change of raising the age to 12 years (and not 14), as pleaded. Perhaps, "possibly the most important step taken in the domestic and social life of the people since the abolition of Sati, in 1829."

Dr. Nancie Monelle spent the next thirty years in India as a physician, translator, and women's advocate. Isabella Thoburn served as a great inspiration to many women missionaries to reach higher spiritual level by way of serving people with love and care. and Dr. Nancie Monelle did exactly what Isabella had said. "Service to people is service to God".