Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi was the first Indian female physician.
She was the first woman from the erstwhile Bombay presidency of India to study and graduate with a two-year degree in western medicine in the United States.
She was also referred to as Anandibai Joshi and Anandi Gopal Joshi (where Gopal came from Gopalrao, which is her husband’s first name).
Originally named Yamuna, Joshi was born, raised and married in Kalyan where her family had previously been landlords before experiencing financial losses.
As was the practice at that time and due to pressure from her mother, she was married at the age of nine to Gopalrao Joshi, a widower almost twenty years her senior.
After marriage, Yamuna’s husband renamed her ‘Anandi’.
Gopalrao Joshi, her husband, was a progressive thinker, and, unusually for that time, supported education for women.
At the age of fourteen, Anandibai gave birth to a boy, but the child lived only for ten days for lack of medical care. This proved to be a turning point in Anandi’s life and inspired her to become a physician.
After Gopalrao tried to enroll her in missionary schools and not working out, they moved to Calcutta. There she learned to read and speak Sanskrit and English.
Her husband encouraged her to study medicine.
In 1880 he sent a letter to Royal Wilder, a well-known American missionary, stating his wife’s interest in studying medicine in the United States and inquiring about a suitable post in the US for himself. 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. Impressed by both Anandibai’s desire to study medicine, and Gopalrao’s support for his wife, she wrote to Anandibai. Carpenter and Anandibai developed a close friendship and came to refer to each other as “aunt” and “niece.” Later, Carpenter would host Anandibai in Rochelle during Joshi’s stay in the U.S.
Gopalrao, Joshi’s husband, was obsessed with Joshi’s education. One day, he came into the kitchen and found her cooking with her grandmother and proceeded to go into a raging fit. It was very uncommon for husbands to beat their wives for cooking instead of reading.
While the Joshi couple was in Calcutta, Anandibai’s health was declining. She suffered from weakness, constant headaches, occasional fever, and sometimes breathlessness. Theodicia sent her medicines from America, without results.
In 1883, Gopalrao was transferred to Serampore, and he decided to send Anandibai by herself to America for her medical studies despite her poor health. Though apprehensive, Gopalrao convinced her to set an example for other women by pursuing higher education.
A physician couple named Thorborn suggested that Anandibai apply to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
On learning of Anandibai’s plans to pursue higher education in the West, orthodox Indian society censured her very strongly.
Anandibai addressed the community at Serampore College Hall, explaining her decision to go to America and obtain a medical degree. She discussed the persecution she and her husband had endured. She stressed the need for female doctors in India, emphasizing that Hindu women could better serve as physicians to Hindu women. Her speech received publicity, and financial contributions started pouring in from all over India.
Anandibai began her medical training at age 19.
In America, her health worsened because of the cold weather and unfamiliar diet. She contracted tuberculosis.
Gopalrao eventually moved to America when he felt displeased by her efforts. By the time he arrived in Philadelphia, she had completed her studies in 1886, and was a doctor. From there, they boarded the ship together and went back home.
She graduated with an MD in March 1886.
The topic of her thesis was “Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos.” The thesis utilized references from both Ayurvedic texts and American medical textbooks.
On her graduation, Queen Victoria sent her a congratulatory message.
The princely state of Kolhapur appointed her as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of the local Albert Edward Hospital.
Anandibai died of tuberculosis early the next year on 26 February 1887 before turning 22.
Her ashes were sent to Theodicia Carpenter, who placed them in her family cemetery at the Poughkeepsie Rural Cemetery in Poughkeepsie, New York. The inscription states that Anandi Joshi was a Hindu Brahmin girl, the first Indian woman to receive education abroad and to obtain a medical degree.
In 1888, American feminist writer Caroline Wells Healey Dall wrote Joshi’s biography.
Doordarshan, aired a Hindi series based on her life, called “Anandi Gopal” and directed by Kamlakar Sarang.
Shrikrishna Janardan Joshi wrote a fictionalised account of her life in his Marathi novel Anandi Gopal, which was adapted into a play of the same name by Ram G. Joglekar
Dr. Anjali Kirtane has extensively researched the life of Dr. Anandibai Joshi and has written a Marathi book entitled “डॉ. आनंदीबाई जोशी काळ आणि कर्तृत्व” (“Dr. Anandibai Joshi, Kaal ani Kartutva: Dr. Anandibai Joshi, her times and accomplishments”) which contains rare photographs of Dr. Anandibai Joshi.
The Institute for Research and Documentation in Social Sciences (IRDS), a non-governmental organization from Lucknow, has been awarding the Anandibai Joshi Award for Medicine in honour of her early contributions to the cause of advancing medical science in India.
The Government of Maharashtra has established a fellowship in her name for young women working on women’s health.
A crater on Venus has been named in her honour. The 34.3 km-diameter crater on Venus named ‘Joshee’ lies at latitude 5.5° N and longitude 288.8° E.
A film on her life in Marathi has been made in 2019 as Anandi Gopal.