Anandi Gopal Joshi (also known as Anadibai Joshi) was the first Indian woman to earn a medical degree but sadly she died before she was able to start a practice in her home country. Rukhmabai was the second woman to earn a medical degree and the first woman to actually practice medicine in India. She had a long and influential medical career.
Yumana Joshi was married at 9 years old to a man 20 years her senior. He renamed her Anandi. She had her first child at 14 years old. Her son died shortly after birth which caused her great grief and created a desire to become a doctor in order to help others. Fortunately her husband believed in women’s education, felt that she could be an example for other women in India, and supported her decision. At 19, she was able to attend Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia. Despite contracting tuberculous and having bouts of poor health, she earned her 2-year medical degree and returned to India in 1887. However she was too ill to begin a practice and died a month before her 22nd birthday in 1888.
Rukhmabai was also a child bride who was married at 11 years old to a man only 8 years older. Fortunately her step-father believed in a woman’s education and knew the dangers of pregnancy in child brides so he delayed consummation of the marriage until she could complete her studies. As Rukhmabai matured she grew into a very cultured and educated woman whereas her legal husband floundered and became more and more against women’s education and freedoms. Rukhmabai knew this would be a disastrous relationship and when her legal husband demanded that she move in with him and that he have his marital rights, she decided to take him to court to nullify the marriage on the grounds that she was too young to consent when the marriage took place. This was a groundbreaking case that went all the way to be decided by Queen Victoria of England. It did result in the first law to raise the age of consent and on discussions of the dangers of child brides. Rukhmabai won but had to pay all court costs, a payoff to her former husband, and would never be allowed to marry.
Because of her new found fame from the trial, funds were raised for her to go on to the London School of Medicine for Women so she could become a doctor. She was the second woman from India to earn a full medical degree. However, unlike Joshi, Rukhmabai was able to have a long and successful career as both a surgeon and Chief Medical Officer for the women’s hospital in Surat, India. She was awarded India’s greatest service, the Kaisar-i-Hind, for her work during plague and influenza outbreaks.
She continued to fight for social reforms including marriage laws and better education for girls. She died at 90 years old and influenced generations of women in India to pursue medical careers.