Sunday, March 3, 2024

Anandibai Joshi: Pioneering The Path For Indian Women In Medicine

Anandibai Joshi Pioneering The Path For Indian Women In Medicine

Choosing a different path in life, thinking out of the box, and stepping out of the societal boundaries that have been created by age-old conventions and expectations have always been a silent struggle for Indian women since ages. Their story is never a consecutive addition of feathers of achievement to their caps but tales of defiance and a constant battle with society. Anandibai Gopal Rao Joshi is one of these brave ladies of India who held her head high with an unwavering spirit to make her way through countless adversities to become the first Indian female doctor in India to practice Western medicine. 

Born in the year 1865, as Yamuna Joshi in a Marathi Brahmin family, she was given off in marriage at the age of 9 to Gopal Rao Joshi who was more than 20 years older than her. Unusual it might sound but her husband was a progressive individual who not only renamed his wife Anandi but also wholeheartedly backed her up in her education. Having experienced the joy of motherhood at the tender age of 14, little did Anandi know that her firstborn was going to survive for only 10 days due to inadequate medical support. It is this loss of her first child that triggered her inspiration to explore the path of medicine.

Back in the 1880s, the accepted norm for women was to confine themselves to the household chores and take care of the kids, but as fate would have it, Anandi mocked society back and decided to pursue her ambition of studying Western Medicine in the United States. It is not that she did not have the choice to stay back in her country, but it is the chauvinistic tendency to divert women to the vocation of midwifery whenever they showed a proclivity to study medicine, that compelled Anandi to consider international universities for her medical career. Pursuing the field of medicine was unthinkable, especially for an upper-caste Brahman woman like Anandibai, and all the odds were stacked against her. Not only was she ridiculed, but also scandalised for her career choice. Even her husband was not spared from stone pelting and abusive comments. However, Anandi being the one to stick to her ground and stare down the adversaries, decided to go abroad and fulfil her dream of becoming a trained female doctor.

Anandi and her husband decided to seek help from the Presbyterian missionaries who published her tenacious spirit and plea for help in the journey of studying medicine. Her request didn’t go unheeded when Theodocia Carpenter from New Jersey offered her assistance and eventually became the sole support for Anandi in her quest to become a trained medical professional. The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia which is currently a part of the Drexel University College of Medicine Philadelphia was the pioneering women’s medical college established in the year 1850; the Institution was believed to be the alma mater of many medical aspirants from all across the globe. Know more about Anandibai Joshi, with her proficiency in seven languages and expertise in history, English, and arithmetic still did not meet the eligibility criteria of the institution, but it was her determination and confidence that eventually convinced the authorities to admit her. Most importantly, it was her altruistic purpose of offering her services to the women of the country who prefer to die rather than be treated by a male doctor that made the authorities see the true potential in Anandi and gave her an opportunity to kick start her medical career at the age of 19.

Being one of the brightest students in the class, Anandibai had never failed to charm her mentors and teachers with her unyielding dedication to her subject. In fact, in a particular autopsy session, she was the single student in the class who sat through the entire process of dissecting the body of an infant. Anandabai's consistent performance and brilliance fetched her a degree in medicine in the year 1886, which exhilarated the dean of the Medical College and he immediately wrote to Queen Victoria about her achievements, who reverted with the congratulatory message. This exchange of information between the queen and the dean of the college captured the attention of Albert Edward Hospital which was established in Kolhapur and they proposed the appointment of Anandibai as the physician in charge of the female wards and a trainer to the female medical students. 

With these unexpected turn of events, Anandibai’s future was already emblazoned with the possibilities of fame, glory, and inestimable respect in India, but fate intervened to cut short all these possibilities. What could have been a tale of triumph to be told around the fires of the villages in India to the children, turned out to be a tragic story when Anandi contracted tuberculosis on her way back to India to respond to the job proposition. Back in the 1880s, tuberculosis couldn’t be cured easily and claimed multiple lives. Nonetheless, Anandi did not waste a second after returning to India to a grand welcome in the year 1886 and joined Albert Edward Hospital which catapulted her to immediate fame and success for her hard work. Her dreams had come true and she longed to sail for some more years in this voyage of success. However, with just one month left to her 22nd birthday, the priceless life of Anandi was nipped in the bud and she left for her heavenly abode at the young age of 21 in the year 1867.

As the entire nation mourned the death of Anandi along with her family as well as Theodocia Carpenter, whom she considered to be her aunt, her ashes were sent back to America. Even today, Anandibai Joshi is remembered for her battle to pave the way for Indian women to join the field of medicine who ironically could not win the battle against tuberculosis herself. Anandibai is not only considered to be the greatest source of inspiration for all the female aspirants for medical careers in India but she is remembered as a 34.3-kilometer diameter crater on Venus which has been named Joshee.

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