Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi (31 March 1865 – 26 February 1887) was one of the first South Asian female physicians and the first Indian female physician, to be trained in the tradition of Western medicine. She was the first female of Indian origin to study and graduate with a degree in medicine in the United States. She is also believed to be the first Hindu woman to set foot on American soil. Along with Kadambini Ganguly, she was one of the first two graduates from Indiao
Anandibai was born as Yamuna, in Kalyan of the Thane district in present day Maharashtra), to an orthodox and wealthy Marathi Brahmin family. Her family used to be landlords in Kalyan but lost their economic wealth. As was the practice at that time, Yamuna was married at the age of nine to Gopalrao Joshi, a widower almost twenty years her senior, due to pressure laid by her family. After marriage, her husband renamed her Anandi.
Towards a medical career
Gopalrao encouraged Anandibai to study medicine. In 1880, he sent a letter to Royal Wilder, a well-known American missionary, stating Anandibai’s interest in studying medicine in the United States, and inquiring about a suitable post in the US for himself. Wilder offered to help if the couple would convert to Christianity. This proposition, however, was not acceptable to the Joshi couple.
Wilder published the correspondence in his, Princeton’s Missionary Review. Theodicia Carpenter, a resident of Roselle, New Jersey, happened to read it while waiting to see her dentist. Anandibai’s desire to study medicine, and Gopalrao’s support for his wife impressed her, and she wrote to them offering Anandibai accommodation in America. An exchange of many letters between Anandibai and Theodicia ensued in which they discussed, among other things, Hindu culture and religion.
Anandibai Joshee graduated from Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMC) in 1886. Seen here with Kei Okami (center) and Tabat Islambooly (right). All three completed their medical studies and each of them was the first woman from their respective countries to obtain a degree in Western medicine.
Anandibai travelled to New York from Calcutta by ship, chaperoned by two English female acquaintances of the Thorborns. In New York, Theodicia Carpenter received her in June 1883. Anandibai wrote to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, asking to be admitted to their medical program, (which was the first women’s medical program in the world). Rachel Bodley, the dean of the college, enrolled her.
Return to India
In late 1886, Anandibai returned to India, receiving a hero’s welcome. The princely state of Kolhapur appointed her as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital.
Anandibai died early next year on 26 February 1887 before turning 22. Her death was mourned throughout India. Her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpenter, who placed them in her family cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York.
Caroline Wells Healey Dall wrote Anandibai’s biography in 1888.
Doordarshan aired a Hindi serial named “Anandi Gopal” based on Anandibai’s life. (Kamlakar Sarang directed the serial.)
Shrikrishna Janardan Joshi wrote a fictionalised account of Anandabai ‘s life in his Marathi novel Anandi Gopal. (The novel has been translated in an abridged form in English by Asha Damle.) It has also been adapted into a play of the same name by Ram G. Joglekar.
The Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences (IRDS), a non-governmental organisation from Lucknow, has been awarding the Anandibai Joshi Award for Medicine in reverence for her early contributions to the cause of advancing medical science in India.
In addition, the Government of Maharashtra has established a fellowship in her name for young women working on women’s health.