Born in 1865 in an extremely orthodox Brahmin family in Maharashtra, a 9-year-old girl got married to a widower who was almost thrice her age. Sounds like a normal “old Indian saga”? Not really!
The girl, later on, became the first Indian woman to qualify as a doctor. Even though she died at a very young age of 21, she opened the gates for many young women in India who wanted to do much more than devoting their entire life to household chores. Yes, we are talking about Anandi Gopal Joshi, India’s first lady to qualify as a doctor from the USA in 1886.
We all hear about how people fight against the masses and make their mark. In the glory and the success, we often fail to recall the efforts of other people who made it possible for them. Every superhero has his army of helpers and we have this army in real life too in the form of family, friends, mentors etc.
Gopalrao Joshi, Anandi’s liberal husband is one such person who stood by his wife’s side and acted as her biggest inspiration and push. Gopalrao, a postal clerk, was determined to educate his wife when she expressed her wish to study medicine at the age of 14, after losing their first child just 10 days after delivery because of unavailability of proper medical resources.
At a time when women’s education wasn’t taken seriously, Gopalrao appeared as a great exception. He had married Anandi on the condition that he should be permitted to educate the girl and that she should be willing to read and write.
Gopalrao started teaching Anandi how to read and write Marathi, English and Sanskrit. He also transferred himself to Calcutta to avoid direct interference of Anandi’s parents in her education.
In America, Anandi was advised to apply in Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The society in India censured her knowing that she will pursue the studies further. Many people supported her decision in America but wanted her to convert to Christianity.
Anandibai addressed the community and explained her desire to go to America and obtain a medical degree. She stressed on the need of Hindu female doctors in India and talked about the goal of opening a medical college for women in India. She also pledged that she would not convert to another religion.
Anandibai travelled to Newyork in 1883. There she wrote to the Medical College of Pennsylvania about her desire to study medicine from the College. The dean of the college happily received her. She joined the college at the age of 19 and was graduated with MD ( Doctor of Medicine) on 11 March 1886. Her health had significantly declined due to cold and unfamiliar weather and diet.
Queen Victoria had also sent her congratulatory message on her graduation.
Anandibai came back to India in 1886 and the princely state of Kolhapur, Maharashtra appointed her as the physician in charge of the female ward at Albert Edward Hospital.
Anandibai passed away on 26 February 1887 before she could turn 22. The whole country mourned her death, and her ashes were sent to Theodocia Carpenter who placed it in the family cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York.
She lived a mere 21 years but achieved more than most of us do in our entire lifetimes. A crater on Venus is now named in her honour. The 34.3 km-diameter crater on Venus named ‘Joshee’ lies at latitude 5.5° N and longitude 288.8° E.