When the news about Anandi’s plans to study medicine in America spread, orthodox Hindus censured her. Anandi addressed the Hindu community at the Serampore College Hall, in Serampore Town. She explained her decision to go to America and obtain a degree in medicine. She stressed the need for Hindu female doctors in India. She told the assembly the persecution she and her husband had endured. She spoke to them about her goal of opening a medical college for women in India. She also pledged that she would not relinquish her religion and convert to Christianity.
Anandi’s speech at the Serampore College Hall received wide publicity. Financial contributions started coming in from all over India. The Viceroy of India contributed 200 rupees to a fund for her education.
On April 17, 1883, Anandi sailed from Calcutta (now Kolkata) to New York chaperoned by two female acquaintances of the Thorborns.
Mrs. Carpenter received Anandi in New York in June 1883. The Carpenter family treated her as a member of the family throughout her stay in America. Mrs. Carpenter arranged Anandi’s admission to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
Here is an extract from Anandi’s letter of application to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania:
“[The] determination which has brought me to your country against the combined opposition of my friends and caste ought to go a long way towards helping me to carry out the purpose for which I came, i.e. is to to render to my poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of and which they would rather die than accept at the hands of a male physician. The voice of humanity is with me and I must not fail. My soul is moved to help the many who cannot help themselves.”
Anandi’s courage, conviction and her earnestness to study medicine against all odds impressed Rachel Littler Bodley, the dean of the college. The college offered Anandi a scholarship of US$ 600 per month for three years. She chose the topic “Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos” for her specialization.
In America, Anandi remained austere and simple. Her lifestyle did not change and she continued to wear the typical 9-yard Maharashtrian saree.
Her declining health worsened because of the cold weather and unfamiliar diet.
After Anandi’s departure, Gopalrao felt dejected and depressed. He quarrelled with his superior frequently. Eventually, he resigned his job as a postal clerk. He then decided to go to America. Since he did not have enough money to pay for a ticket to America, he purchased a ticket up to Rangoon. There he worked for some time as a porter in the docks. After earning enough money he sailed to America.
Anandi was overjoyed when her husband joined her in Philadelphia after about three years. By that time, she had completed her medical course and passed out obtaining a First Class MD degree. During the Convocation held on March 11, 1886, Anandi received a standing ovation when the president of the College said:
“I am proud to say that today should be recorded in golden letters in the annals of this college. We have the first Indian woman who is honoring this college by acquiring a degree in medicine. Mrs. Anandi Joshi has the honor to be the very first woman doctor of India”.
Anandibai Joshee and the WMCP received congratulatory messages from Queen Victoria, Empress of India.
In 1886, Anandi and Gopalrao decided to return to India. During the latter part of her stay in America, Anandi often fell sick. She suffered from severe cough.
When Anandi and Gopalrao reached Bombay, a grand reception was arranged to honour Anandi. The princely State of Kolhapur appointed her as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local King Albert Edward Hospital.
Anandi contracted tuberculosis. As the days passed, the disease worsened. Anandi, though a qualified doctor from America, insisted on consulting the then well-known Ayurvedic doctor Dr. Mehendele living in Poona. When she was taken to Poona, Dr. Mehendele refused to see her even though he was told that she was in the throes of death. Adding insult to injury, Mehendele was cruel enough to say:
“This woman went to America. She lived alone with strangers, ate food forbidden to Brahmins by religion and brought shame on Brahmins”.
Anandi returned home dejected.
Members of the elite in Poona came to see Anandi. They praised her for her achievements, but no one came forward with any financial help to the family. Then, she received a letter from Lokamanya Tilak, Editor of “Kesari”:
“I know how in the face of all the difficulties you went to a foreign country and acquired knowledge with such diligence. You are one of the greatest women of our modern era. It came to my knowledge that you need money desperately. I am a
newspaper editor. I do not have a large income. Even then I wish to give you one hundred rupees”.
After reading Tilak’s letter, Anandi wept. She said:
“This penury, this begging for charity, no, no, I can’t bear it any more. What was I, and what has become of me? I am not a beggar’s daughter. None of my family was ever a beggar. I am a landlord’s daughter. That people should take pity on me and offer me money for my bare existence, how can I live with all this? God is so cruel, why does he not relieve me of all this?”
A few days later, on February 26, 1887, Anandibai died. Her death was mourned throughout India.
Again, breaking with tradition, Gopalrao sent Anandi’s ashes to Mrs. Theodicia Carpenter, who laid the them to rest in her family cemetery at Poughkeepsie, New York.
Anandi Gopal Joshee is still remembered among Indian feminists.
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’sShat 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.