The Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, founded in 1850, changed its name to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMPC) in 1867. It was the first medical institution in the world established to train women in medicine and offer them the M.D., degree.
In the above photograph taken on October 10, 1885, are three students of the WMPC. This and many other images now reside in the archives of Drexel University, which absorbed the successor to the WMCP, in 2003.
All three women became the first woman from their respective countries to get a degree in western medicine. They are:
(1) Dr.Anandabai Joshee, Seranysore, India.
(2) Dr. Kei Okami, Tokio, Japan.
(3) Dr. Tabat M. Islambooly, Damascus, Syria.
The saree-clad woman with a determined look is Anandibai Joshee from India.
Anandibai Joshi was the first of two Indian women to receive a degree in Western medicine in 1886. The other was Kadambini Ganguly, a Graduate of Bengal Medical College.
Anandibai is also believed to be the first Hindu woman to set foot on American soil. This is her story.
Anandibai was born as Yamuna on March 31, 1865, in Kalyan, in Thane District, Maharashtra, India. Her father, Ganapatrao Joshee, hailed from the orthodox Brahmin family of the Peshwas. The Joshees ran a joint family and for three generations were staying under the same roof. The family was now impoverished. They had some ancestral land and a dilapidated building.
In those days, the tradition among orthodox Brahmins was to get a girl married before she reached puberty. Otherwise, their society considered it a public disgrace to the family.
When Yamuna turned nine and nearing puberty, her parents became desperate. They did not have enough monetary resources to offer a handsome dowry. They were ready to accept any male who would marry the girl after accepting the meagre dowry which they could afford to give.
A postal clerk in Kalyan, 25-year-old Gopalrao Joshee, resided in Thane. He was a widower. Some considered him an eccentric for his romantic obsession of remarriage of widows. He also sought education of women, which was a taboo among the Hindus in India at that time. Some, even said that his first wife Savitri died, unable to bear his bullying her to read and write Marathi.
When someone suggested Gopalrao’s name as a prospective groom, Yamuna’s family immediately showed interest. The only condition laid by Gopalrao was that her parents should permit him to educate the girl. Yamuna’s family accepted his condition and fixed the marriage.
A few days, after agreeing to marry Yamuna, the romantic Gopalrao changed his mind. His idea of marrying a widow still haunted him. He left home without telling anyone with the intention of getting married to a widow in Poona. But when that woman came to know that he was an ordinary postal clerk, she refused to see him. When the dejected groom returned to Kalyan, the muhurta (auspicious moment) had passed. So, the marriage took place at a later date.
After the marriage, Gopalrao changed his wife’s name Yamuna to Anandi. He took care of his child bride almost like a father. During his leisure hours, Gopalrao started teaching Anandi to read and write Marathi. He instilled in her a desire to learn more.
It was common for Brahmins, in those times, to be proficient in Sanskrit. But Gopalrao influenced by Lokhitawadi’s Shat Patre, considered learning English more important. So, to avoid the interference of her parents in her education, Gopalrao got himself transferred to Alibag, Calcutta, Kolhapur, etc.
In due course of time, Anandi metamorphosed into an intellectual girl with an excellent knowledge of English.
Gopalrao was much impressed with the zeal of the Christian missionaries in the field of women’s education. He understood that education for women was the key to the prosperity of a nation. So, he wanted to set an example by giving a higher education to his own wife.
When Anandi was 14, she gave birth to a boy. But the baby died within 10 days due to non-availability of proper medical care. This proved the turning point in Anandi’s life. Encouraged by her husband, she vowed to become a physician.
While stationed in Kolhapur, Gopalrao met an American Christian lady missionary. Due to her influence he gave serious thought to becoming a Christian. He thought of sending his wife to America for higher education with the help of the Christian missionaries.
So, in 1880, Gopalrao sent a letter to Royal Wilder, an American missionary if he could help his wife to study medicine in America. Wilder replied that he would help in his wife’s education if he and his wife agree to convert to Christianity. The condition proposed by Wilder was not acceptable to him and his wife. However, Wilder was gracious enough to Gopalrao’s appeal in Princeton’s Missionary Review.
Mrs. Theodicia Carpenter, a resident of Roselle, New Jersey, United States, happened to read it while waiting to see her dentist. Impressed by Gopalrao’s desire to help his wife study medicine in America, she wrote to him. Anandi wrote back to Mrs. Carpenter, and a friendship sprouted from their correspondence. Anandi’s earnest desire to study medicine in America prompted her to offer accommodation for Anandi in America if she so desired. A physician couple named Thorborn suggested to Anandi to apply to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
In Calcutta, Anandi’s health declined. Mrs. Carpenter sent medicines from America.
In 1883, Gopalrao was transferred to Serampore, in Hooghly District, West Bengal. So, Gopalrao decided to send Anandi alone to America to pursue her medical studies, despite her poor health. She was a bit uncertain about travelling alone across the sea, but Gopalrao convinced her to set an example for other women.
- Anandibai Joshee: First Indian Woman to Qualify as a Doctor in USA in 1886 – Part 2 (tvaraj.com)
- Anandi Gopal Joshi (en.wikipedia.org)
- Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (en.wikipedia.org)
- Rachel Bodley (en.wikipedia.org)
- Historical Photos Depict Women Medical Pioneers (pri.org)
- Drexel University (en.wikipedia.org)
- Anandi Gopal Joshi (freedomfirst.in)
- Kadambini Ganguly (en.wikipedia.org)
- Gopal Hari Deshmukh (en.wikipedia.org)