For most Indian parents today the idea of having their daughter in medical school is an attainable dream - difficult, yet attainable. However, flashback to the 19th century and the notion of a woman in medical school, especially an Indian woman in an American medical institution, was as unfathomable as landing on the moon.
As with most of the world, India’s history is mired in patriarchal values where women were not much more than accessories. But even in the most repressive times there were glimmers of hope in the offing, like the story of Anandi Gopal Joshi, the first Indian woman to be certified as a Doctor in the United States.
Her story started out the same way as many Hindu Brahmin women of her time. Born in 1865 in Kalyan, Maharashtra as Yamuna, she was married at the age of 9 to a 29-year-old widower Gopalrao Joshi who changed her name to Anandi. Gopalrao, a Postmaster in Kalyan, believed in women’s education and started teaching Anandi in Sanskrit and English, an uncommon event in that era.
At the age of fourteen Anandi gave birth to a son but due to the primitive medical facilities he dies 10 days later. This tragedy proved to be a turning point in Anandi’s life and spurred her to become a physician. In 1880, Gopalrao wrote to Philadelphian missionary Royal Wilder, requesting a seat for Anandi in a medical college and a suitable position for himself, but Wilder refused help unless the couple converted to Christianity. There terms were unacceptable for the Joshi’s but Wilder published their correspondence in the Princeton’s Missionary Review where it caught the eye of Theodicia Carpenter, a resident of New Jersey who was inspired by the couples’ ambitions.
Anandi’s health was declining but with Gopalrao’s encouragement in 1883 she travelled from Calcutta to New York where she was to attend the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, now Drexel Medical College. She was among women from countries like Japan and Syria, all who had travelled far to pursue their dreams. At 21 she earned her M.D. at returned to India in 1886, where she took up a post at the Albert Edward Hospital in Kolhapur. But her success was not destined to be, less than a year later, before her 22nd birthday Anandi died from chronic tuberculosis. Her ashes were sent to Theodicia where she was laid to rest in her family plot as India mourned the loss of such an iconic woman. Though short, her life was rich and had an overwhelming impact on society. She taught Indian women that there could be dreams beyond the borders of their town or city and that if they found the courage, they could do and be anything they set their minds to.