This is the story of Anandibai Gopal Joshi.
We all know the saying ‘life is unfair’. But some stories put a nail on this fact. Such is the story of India’s first female doctor of western medicine, Anandibai Joshi. She fought a decade-long war with the 18th-century Indian society and won. But her post-victory days were few. She died 4 months after becoming a certified doctor and practising medicine.
Anandibai Joshi was a normal girl born into a Brahmin Marathi family. Her name was Yamuna. As child marriage was still in practice back then, she was married at the young age of nine. Her husband was a 29-year-old widow, Gopalrao Joshi.
Gopalrao renamed her Anandi after their marriage. He was a postal clerk, which meant he worked closely with East India company officers. Hence his mindset was a bit ahead of his fellow countrymen.
Gopalrao encouraged the learning and education of women. He would teach her Sanskrit at home. Sanskrit was the spiritual language of India. Most sacred texts and books are originally written in Sanskrit. Hence, Anandibai was keen on learning Sanskrit.
But things changed dramatically for Anandi when she was just 14. She gave birth to a son at the age of just 14 but the child could not live past 10 days. He died because of the lack of medical facilities in the city of Kolhapur. Anandi was heartbroken and during this period of darkness, she decided something big. She wanted to pursue medical education and become a doctor. Her husband, Gopal Rao understood her pain and saw the determination in her eyes.
Gopalrao and Anandibai Joshi moved to the city of Kolkata. Kolkata was the base of the East India Company. Hence it had the most number of missionary schools and colleges in India. Anandi was enrolled in a missionary school where she started learning English. Meanwhile, her husband wrote a letter to Royal Wilder in New Jersey, USA. Royal Wilder, was a prominent missionary in the USA, who columned in Princeton’s Missionary Review. He published Anandibai’s story and the story was read by Theodicia Carpenter.
Theodicia and Anandibai Joshi became penpals, writing to and forth regularly. Anandibai would address her as Aunt.
But during all this, Anandibai Joshi was suffering from weakness and headaches caused by a mysterious illness. Theodicia even sent her medicines from America but they failed to improve her condition. During its treatment, Anandibai met Thorborns. The Thorborns were a physician couple who suggested Anandibai travel to the USA, where it would be easier for her to enrol in medical school.
Gopal Rao was unable to leave his job and hence sent Anandibai to the US on her own. Anandi was hosted by Theodicia. She explained her story to the dean of Women’s College of Pennsylvania and was accepted enthusiastically by the college.
Three years later she graduated as an MD and her topic for the thesis was the birth-giving process of Hindu women. Queen Victoria too, sent her a congratulation.
She came to India with a diagnosis of Tuberculosis from America. There was no cure for TB back then. She knew her fate and yet she continued serving as a doctor. Four months after practising as India’s first doctor she passed away.
The story of Anandibai makes you think that she was brought to this earth for this purpose only. Once she had done her job of breaking stereotypes, challenging social norms, and inspiring the entire future generation, God called her back. Short as her life was, her stature remains larger than life even today.