APA Heritage Month: Anandibai Joshi, the First Indian Woman to Get a U.S. Medical Degree

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Anandibai Joshi
Anandibai Joshi

Anandibai Joshi was known as one of the first woman doctors of India. She is a pioneer for women’s health and an advocate for Indian doctors to serve Indian patients during a brutal colonial period.

Ultimately, she beat enormous odds.

According to NDTV,  she was “was born in Kalyan in present day Maharashtra’s Thane district on March 31, 1865. At the time, she was known as Yamuna. Her parents used to be wealthy landlords, but under oppressive taxation from the British, faced a financial struggle.

Yamuna was married at age nine to a mail clerk, Gopalrao Joshi, a widower who was nearly thirty. He changed her name from Yamuna to Anandibai, or Anandi as she is otherwise known.  The Quint reports that her husband urged her to learn English and Sanskrit, progressive for women’s education at the time.

But it was when she was 14 that everything changed.

At 14, she gave birth to her first child. But, because of a lack of medical resources, she had to watch, and was traumatized, to see her child die after only ten days.

At that moment, Anandi vowed she’d become a doctor, so no woman would ever suffer that same pain.

Coming from a strict orthodox Hindu community, Anandi was looked down upon for trying to pursue a medical degree in the U.S. Her husband wrote to a U.S. missionary friend, a man named Wilder, asking to help him get a job and to have Anandi attend medical school.  Wilder’s conditions including converting to Christianity.

The couple politely declined.

However, Wilder published the couple’s letter in the Princeton Missionary Review, which caught the eye of Theodosia Carpenter. Carpenter allowed her a place to stay until she had her education situation settled.

Anandi made the difficult seafaring journey, and upon arrival in New York by the year 1883, wrote to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.

According to the Independent, Anandi was offered a spot alongside the first female medical students from Japan and Syria. She graduated in early spring, 1885. Queen Victoria wrote her a letter of congratulations. Newspapers back in Anandi’s home lauded her as one of the most awe-inspiring minds of the time.

Anandi was appointed physician for the women’s ward at Albert Edward Hospital, Kolhapur. She dreamed of running a clinic catered especially towards women’s healthcare, but her dreams were cut short.

Her time traveling and studying with unfamiliar weather conditions and diets in the U.S. all contributed to her eventually succumbing to tuberculosis. At the age of 21, on the 26th of February, 1887, the first female doctor of India passed away. Her ashes were sent to New York to be buried, the place where her dreams of becoming a doctor were initially realized.

But you can look up, quite literally, towards the sky, and still see remnants of her legacy. Astronomers named a crater on Venus in her honor. From the Logical Indian, the description is: “34.3 km-diameter crater on Venus named ‘Joshee’ (that) lies at latitude 5.5° N and longitude 288.8° E.”

As it is now May, and Asian Pacific American Heritage Month is a time to reflect upon badass Asian female historical figures, remember the life of Anandi Joshi. A woman whose dreams broke boundaries, and whose name now rests among the stars.

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