This 19th Century Lady Doctor Helped Usher Indian Women Into Medicine

Leila McNeill in Smithsonian:

Anandibai_gopalrao_joshiOn February 24, 1883 18-year-old Ananabai Joshee announced her intentions to leave India and attend higher education in the United States. She would be the first Indian woman to do so. “In my humble opinion,” declared Joshee, addressing a packed room of Bengalese neighbors, acquaintances and fellow Hindus who had gathered at Serampore College, “there is a growing need for Hindu lady doctors in India, and I volunteer to qualify myself for one.” Though Joshee would indeed go on to become the first Indian woman to study medicine in America, she would not live long enough to fulfill her goal of serving Hindu women when she returned. However, her ambition and short-lived success would help blaze a new trail for future generations of Indian lady doctors: After Joshee’s educational victory, many medically-minded Indian women would follow in her footsteps.

Joshee was born with the name Yamuna on May 30, 1865 into a high-caste Brahmin family in Maharashtra, near Bombay. Her father Ganpatrao, straying from orthodox Hindu customs regarding women and girls, encouraged Joshee’s education and enrolled her in school from an early age. Joshee’s mother, however, was both emotionally and physically abusive. As Joshee would later recall: “My mother never spoke to me affectionately. When she punished me, she used not just a small rope or thong, but always stones, sticks and live charcoal.” When Joshee was six, Ganpatrao recruited a distant family relative named Gopalrao Joshee to tutor her. Three years into this arrangement, her tutor received a job promotion at the postal service in another city. There are few records of this time, but at some point, Yamuna and Gopalrao’s tutoring relationship became a betrothal, and they married on March 31, 1874. As was Maharashtrian custom, Yamuna changed her name upon marriage to Ananabai, which means “joy of my heart.” Joshee was only nine, but at the time it was not uncommon for a Hindu girl to be married so young. What was unusual was that one of Gopalrao’s terms for marrying Yamuna was that he continue to direct her education, as medical historian Sarah Pripas documents in her dissertation on international medical students in the U.S.

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