Today is the 154th birthday of India’s first woman doctor. Dr. Anandi-bai Joshee. She lived only to the age of 23, but became a catalyst for the transformation of her society’s treatment of women.
Below is a brief outline of her life story.
In 1883, an unschooled Indian teenager named Anandi Joshee sailed from Calcutta to New York. This was a time when there were no schools for girls in India. Also, doctors (who were all male) could not treat female patients. Having witnessed the suffering of women, Joshee decided to become a doctor so she might provide medical care to her “country-sisters.” Through her achievement, she hoped to help create a culture that saw women as deserving, and capable of, equality with men.
Anandi faced critics in India and skeptics in America. Her two champions were her husband Gopal who had tutored her and fostered her ambition, and Theodocia Carpenter, a New Jersey housewife who had initiated a correspondence three years before, offering “all possible help.” With her determination and grace Anandi won the support of all—American, British and Indian alike—who crossed her path. Three thousand people attended her 1886 graduation from the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia, and Queen Victoria sent congratulations from London.
Her story is captivating, just as the stories of many trailblazers are. They remind us that the social norms that we take for granted in the present day were, at one time, far from settled facts. And so, the struggle to change a society while remaining a part of that society took courage, grit, grace, and a certain tolerance for risk.
However, Anandi’s story became a compelling and transformative experience of my own life because I found her letters. Through those letters, I came to know her inner life — the doubts that assailed her on her trailblazing quest, the loneliness which threatened to weaken her, and her grace when faced with skeptics.
I researched and wrote her story over a course of seven years. My writing journey was like her education journey — I felt doubts, felt lonely, was met with rejections. But I stuck to it. Not because anyone was making me do it, but because no other pursuit made as much sense.
My book, Radical Spirits — India’s First Woman Doctor and Her American Champions — will be published early in 2020.
Writing, or any other creative pursuit, is a way of making the invisible visible, even if only to the creator. What creative interest do you feel compelled to follow?
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