Anandi Gopal Joshi is India’s first female doctor and secured a degree in medicine when she was 21 years from Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, now known as Drexel University College of Medicine. Born in an orthodox family in Maharashtra on March 31, 1865, she was married to a widower thrice her age when she was just nine. Five years later, Joshi gave birth to a boy, but he soon died due to lack of medical care.
Her husband, Gopalrao Joshi, inspired her to educate herself at a time when education to women was not given due importance. He started teaching Anandi how to read and write Marathi, English and Sanskrit. He also sent her to Calcutta so that Anandi could pursue further studies and would be away from interference by her parents.
Amid pressure from family and society, Anandi was sent to America to pursue a degree in Medicine. She fulfilled her husband’s strenuous effort and graduated from Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMC) 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 obstetric practices among the ancient Hindus.
Anandi’s 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 came back to India in 1886 with the dream of opening a medical college for women. She got a grand welcome and the princely state of Kolhapur appointed her as physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital. However, Anandi passed away at a young age of just 22 years due to tuberculosis on February 26, 1887.
The first biography of India’s first female doctor was written in 1888 by Caroline Wells Healey Dall. Doordarshan, under direction of Kamlakar Sarang, aired a Hindi serial “Anandi Gopal”, which based on Anandibai’s life. Shrikrishna Janardan Joshi wrote a Marathi novel Anandi Gopal based on her life. Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences (IRDS), Lucknow, has an honorary award after her name – Anandibai Joshi award for Medicine. Interestingly, a crater on Venus is also named after her.