Dr. Anandabai Joshee is described alternately as the first Indian woman to become a physician, the first Indian woman to graduate with a degree in medicine from a US institution, the first Hindu woman to arrive on US soil and/or the “first uncoverted high-caste Hindu woman to leave her country (quoted from Caroline Healey Dall, 1888, more on this later).
I find it impossible at this time, to understand the full picture of what motivated Anandabai Joshee and her husband, Gopalrao Joshi (Joshee) to seek a spot for her to study in a medical school in the US. It seems evident that she was motivated toward higher education and that her husband both supported this effort and, himself, wanted to push beyond the boundaries of British influence to get to a U.S. institution. In 1880, they initiated an extended solicitation and letter-writing campaign to secure a spot for Anandabai in a medical school in the US. Complicated by the demand from some amongst their audience of US missionaries that the couple convert to Christianity, their efforts were publicized among missionary periodicals and their plight found its way to the interest of Theodicia Carpenter of Roselle, NJ who labored to support the couple’s efforts. Ultimately Gopalrao encouraged Anandabai to go on her own to the U.S. Anandabai’s explained her story for wanting to become a doctor, asserted her refusal to convert to Christianity and the importance she saw that India have have women physicians and her goal to start a women’s medical college in India upon her return. The speech was publicized and support for Anandabai’s study spread, it seems, quite widely throughout the country.
In 1883, Anandabai, already struggling with poor health, enrolled in the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania and in 1886 she graduated with a medical degree. Her health continued to decline during her time in the U.S.
At the time of her graduation, she received a congratulatory message from Queen Victoria and an appointment as Physician-in-Charge at the female ward of Albert Edward Hospital in Kolhapur, India.
She returned to India in October 1886 and succumbed to illness in February 1887. Despite her death at such a young age, her life and her accomplishments have been celebrated both in the U.S. and India.
In 1888, Caroline Healey Dall wrote an account of her life entitled, “The Life of Anandabai Joshee, a kinswoman of the Pudita Ramabai. The accounts I have read of Joshee’s short life do not explain the larger geopolitical context and don’t offer me a way to understand the full reasoning behind Dall’s interest in Joshee’s story. The lines of reportage seem to point to a complex relationship between the U.S. and the British Empire for the favor of the Indian population at this time of colonial rule as well as a complicated struggle between the religious, cultural and economic investments of the two western countries in India. There is definitely more to understand about Joshee’s biography and her stunning, yet brief, time in Philadelphia.