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ANANDIBAI JOSHI (1865–1887)


Anandibai Joshi was, along with Kadambini Ganguly (q.v.), one of the first Indian women to qualify as a doctor. She fought hard against tough odds to get her degree, though she died too young to establish herself in her profession.

She was married to Gopal Vinayak Joshi, a widower twenty years older than her, when she was nine years old. Her birth name was Yamuna but her husband renamed her Anandi, the ‘happy one’. Gopal Joshi, a postal clerk, was determined to educate his wife. After the death of their first child when Anandibai was 14, a tragedy she was sure could have been averted had the child received adequate medical attention, she decided she would become a doctor. Gopal took a job in Bombay (now Mumbai) then Alibag and finally in Calcutta. He encouraged her against the opposition and discrimination she faced, which grew to the point where they became convinced that she could only study abroad. However, his support of her was erratic and unpredictable, and he could turn on her suddenly and abuse her without warning; dealing with his tantrums soaked up a lot of her energy and probably hastened her death.

Gopal wrote to a missionary named Royal Wilder, asking if he could help the couple move to America so Anandibai could study there. Wilder agreed only on the condition that they convert to Christianity. They refused, but Wilder wrote about the correspondence in a local paper, and Theodicia Carpenter, a rich American from New Jersey, saw the articles, came forward and offered to help Anandibai study in America.

Anandibai was already ill with the first symptoms of the tuberculosis that would ultimately kill her. Theodicia Carpenter sent her medicines from America but to no avail. In spite of her failing health, Gopal decided to send her alone in 1883 to America, as they could not afford to go together. As a student at the Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania, she was happy, but lack of funds led to her overworking and neglecting herself and her health worsened. She also refused to wear Western clothes in the punishing cold of North America. Nevertheless she completed her thesis on obstetric practices among the ancient Hindus. Gopal Rao joined her in 1885, but on her return after her graduation in 1886 her illness was diagnosed as the last stage of tuberculosis. She died shortly after her return to India, and her ashes were placed in the Carpenter family cemetery in New York. An early American feminist, Caroline Healey Dall, wrote a short biography of Anandi in 1888, and in 1912 Kashibai Kanitkar wrote a biography of her in Marathi. S.J. Joshi wrote a fictional version of her life in his Marathi novel Anandi Gopal, translated into English by Asha Damle and published by Stree in 1992.
 
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