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India’s First Women Doctors Broke Shackles of Patriarchy, Yet Remain Forgotten

Anandibai Joshi, Kadambini Ganguly, Rukhmabai Raut, Haimabati Sen, Muthulakshmi Reddy and Mary Poonen Lukose – written out of history, India’s first women doctors were trailblazers.

India’s First Women Doctors Broke Shackles of Patriarchy, Yet Remain Forgotten

Editor’s Note: Extensive primary research for the video this story is based on was done by author Kavitha Rao, for her book ‘Lady Doctors’.

However the video and story did not acknowledge that research or credit Kavitha Rao for her work. We deeply apologise for this grave oversight in our coverage. – Vinayak Hegde. 


Anandibai Joshi is India’s first woman to study medicine in the US. She graduated from Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886. Even though she couldn’t practice as a doctor due to her untimely death at the age of 22, Anandibai is an inseparable part of the history of empowering women.

Kadambini Ganguly has many firsts to her credit. She is the first Indian woman to practice as a doctor and the first girl to study at Calcutta Medical College. She went to the UK for further training in 1892. She served as a gynaecologist at Lady Dufferin Hospital in Kolkata till her death in 1923.

Rukhmabai Raut is another prominent woman who is one of the first to practice medicine in India. She also played a major role in the enactment of the Age of Consent Act in 1891. Married off at the age of 11, her case became the turning point for the enactment of this act. After completing her studies in London, she joined as the Chief Medical Officer in Surat. Her long 35 years of service and activism came to an end in 1955.

Child widow and mother of five, Haimabati Sen was not simply a doctor. She fought against remarriage and completed her studies with a gold medal all while holding her first baby in her arms. She started a private medical practice in 1910 and continued it till her death in 1932.

Muthulakshmi Reddy was the first girl student of Madras Medical College who opted for surgery and scored 100 per cent in it. But she was hugely unsatisfied with her profession and eventually became a social reformer. The famous Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai was founded by her.

India got its first female surgeon general in 1938 – Mary Poonen Lukose. She played a significant role in making the public healthcare system of Kerala top-notch. It was Mary who fought for making smallpox vaccination accessible to everyone.

Watch the life stories of these powerful women doctors:

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