At a time when education to women was not given much importance, Anandi Joshi secured a degree in medicine at the age of 21 from Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, now known as Drexel University College of Medicine. After getting married at the age of nine, her husband Gopalrao Joshi took a leading role to educate her wife. He inspired Anandi to pursue a degree in Western Medicine but no medical colleges in America agreed to give a chance to an orthodox brahmin.
Theodicia Carpenter of Roselle, New Jersey, came as an aid for the couple and with her assistance the American missionary women escorted her to America, as published in the Missionary Review. She made the long journey to New York by ship and was received by Mrs. Carpenter there. The young lady wrote a letter to the Medical College of Pennsylvania seeking for admission into their medical programme. The Superintendent, inspired by her hardships that she endured to reach USA for a degree, offered her a seat with a scholarship of $600 for the entire program.
“(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. 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 letter to the Superintendent of College.
Read | Who is Anandi Gopal Joshi?
Anandi secured her MD degree in 1886 with Kei Okami of Japan and Tabat Islambooly of Syria. All three became the first woman from their respective countries to obtain a degree in Western medicine. She did her thesis on ‘Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos’. Her work received praise from Kesari editor Lokmanya Tilak and even Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message.
“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.” Tilak wrote in his letter.
Joshi with a dream of opening a medical college for women came back to India in 1886. She received a grand welcome and was appointed as physician-in-charge of the female ward of the Albert Edward Hospital, Kolhapur.
Anandi breathed her last at a young age of just 22 years due to tuberculosis on February 26, 1887.
In honour to India’s first female doctor, Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences (IRDS), Lucknow, gives an award after her name – Anandibai Joshi award for Medicine. The Maharashtra Government also awards young women working on women’s health with Anandibai fellowships.