Photo feature

Remarkable photos of 19th century Indian women in US medical school

Images of three Indian women who went to medical school in faraway America in the late 1800s.

I’ve been researching records related the history of hearing aids, but it’s easy to get side-tracked in the archive. Browsing through the photographic collection at the Drexel University College of Medicine Archives & Special Collections, which holds a remarkable repository on women physicians from the 1850s to 1870s, I came across one image that piqued my interest.

The photo of the three physicians was a memento from the Dean’s reception at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, dated October 10, 1885. I have hardly come across sources from the late nineteenth-century of non-white women practicing medicine. So naturally, I started digging a bit into female Indian physicians, beginning with Dr. Anandi Gopal Joshi.

Joshi is thought to be the first Hindu woman to receive an education abroad and to obtain a medical degree. Born in 1865 in Kalyan, near Mumbai, she was married off when she was nine to 29-year-old postmaster named Gopal Vinayak Joshi, a widower. Gopal renamed Joshi, changing her birth name from Yamuna to Anandi (“the happy one”). He was also a supporter of women’s education and started teaching his young wife shortly after they got married. She eventually learned Sanskrit and English. The marriage was not completely ideal; there’s sources indicating that Gopal often abused his young wife to keep her focused on her education.

In the 1880s, with the help of a Philadelphia missionary, Joshi was sent to the United States to receive an education in medicine, a decision made after the tragic death of her son when she was 14. She enrolled in the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, then the first hospital for women; her thesis was titled Obstetrics among Aryan Hindoos.

Joshi’s letter to Alfred Jones, member of the Executive Committee of the Women’s College 1886. She writes for permission to attend the College, and for financial assistance.

Joshi earned her M.D. at the age of 21. In 1886, at her husband’s urging, she returned to India, where she took up a post at the Albert Edward Hospital in Kolhapur. She died a mere year later from tuberculosis.

I’m so fascinated by this story: a young woman, encouraged (if not forced) to educate herself, travels to a faraway land and studies medicine. A year after Joshi died, the feminist writer Caroline Wells Healy Dall wrote her biography, The Life of Dr. Anandabai Joshee, a Kinswoman of the Pundita Ramabai. A fictionalised account of Joshi’s life was also written, by SJ Joshi in 1962, Anandi Gopal. Originally written in Marathi, the novel was later adapted into an award-winning play by Ram G Joglekar.

Joshi wasn’t the only female who studied at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Gurubai Karmarkar (d.1932) was the second Indian woman to graduate from the college, in 1892. She eventually returned to Indian and worked at the American Marathi Mission in Bombay.

Gurubai Karmakar, 1891.

Photo dated 1881.

Dora Chatterjee was also a graduate from the Women’s College, graduating in 1901, being the third Indian women to do so. After graduation, she returned to Hoshyarpur, Punjab, where she worked for a Christian missionary.

Detail from a class photograph, 1901.

This is a slightly edited version of a piece that originally appeared on the blog From the Hands of Quacks. All images have been sourced from Drexel University College Archives & Special Collections.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.