The Female Medical College of Pennsylvania, later the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, was the first medical school in the world established (in 1850) to train women as medical doctors. We read about how one of its first students, Ann Preston, became the first woman dean of the school, in the previous post Women in Medicine: 6 Pioneering Activists. The medical school went on to graduate many pioneers in the medical field. One of them was Anandabai Gopal Joshee, who was not only the first Indian woman to receive a Western medical degree, but also the first known Hindu woman to travel to America.

Anandabai Joshee was named Yamuna when she was born into a Marathi Brahmin family in 1865. She changed her name to Anandabai (often shortened to Anandi) when she married Gopal Vinyak Joshee at the age of nine. Her only child was born when she was 14, but died after a mere ten days. This experience led Joshee to consider studying medicine in order to provide care to mothers and to save other infants. To this end, her husband contacted a local American missionary inquiring about a medical education in the United States. The response was that she would have to convert to Christianity, because no Hindu woman would be welcome. Joshee was unwilling to convert.

However, Joshee was determined to go to medical school in America. Mrs. Theodosia Carpenter, a New Jersey socialite, read of Joshee’s struggle in a missionary newsletter and began a correspondence with the Indian woman. She and her husband offered their home to Joshee if she came to America, and later provided some support for her medical education.

Joshee made no secret of her wish, and gathered both supporters and opponents among the British who ruled India, Brahmins, and other Indians. In 1883, she made a statement at a public meeting hall in Serampore, in which she addressed a packed house about her goal of becoming a doctor, and why she needed to study in America. Joshee pledged to remain Hindu, no matter what her experience would be. She received some support from the lecture, but still had to sell her family jewels to pay for her passage to America, and she had to leave her husband behind.

A class at WMCP in the 1880s.

By then, Joshee had gained some notoriety, and was greeted in London and New York as a celebrity, albeit a curiously exotic celebrity. She began her studies at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in October of 1883. Joshee drummed up more funds as she met new people, and her husband was able to join her in America in 1885. Joshee did not take well to the climate in Philadelphia. Her health had always been frail, and she contracted tuberculosis. The presence of her husband did not help matters: he was jobless in America, and spent his time making controversial statements to the press disparaging women’s work, Christians, and America in general. But she persisted in her studies in order to graduate on time in 1886. She wrote her thesis on “Hindu Obstetrics,” which was 50 pages long. Joshee graduated on March 11, 1886.

Joshee expected to serve her internship in the U.S., but received an appointment from the state of Kolhapur to head the women’s ward of the Albert Edward Hospital, including the opportunity to train other women as doctors. Dr. Joshee tried to visit American hospitals in the summer of 1886, but her health worsened, and many stops were canceled. She and her husband set sail for India in October. It was a difficult journey. Joshee received a celebrity’s welcome in Bombay, but by then, it was evident that she would not recover, and she was taken to her hometown of Pune. She died on February 26, 1887, before she could take charge of the hospital appointment that awaited her. Dr. Joshee was just shy of her 22nd birthday.

Anandabai Joshee was not the only Asian student during her time at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Keiko Okami became the first Japanese woman to receive an M.D. in 1889, and Thabat Islambooly from Syria also graduated from WMCP, although the year is not known. The picture above is of all three, taken on October 10, 1885.