Invariably, when I go on tour or to cons to talk about Wonder Women, someone asks me to pick my favorite woman in the book – and let me tell you, that is a nigh impossible decision. So many of these women have the most kick-ass life stories, and I feel so incredibly honored to have been able to bring them to print.
But I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that, over and over again, when I’m asked this question, my mind turns to the same woman: Anandibai Joshi. You can find her full story in Wonder Women, but I’d love to give you the highlights here – along with some fantastic original images, all courtesy The Legacy Center at the Archives & Special Collections of the Drexel University College of Medicine, which includes records from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
Born in India in 1865, when women weren’t even allowed to be literate let alone educated, Anandi was a fighter. A child bride who lost a son at a young age, she realized that women in India (and, as we know now, around the world) were choosing to die instead of living with the shame associated with seeing a male doctor for female reproductive concerns. Anandi knew that she could save countless lives if she became a doctor, and made it her life’s goal.
Denied assistance by Christian missionaries who demanded that Anandi renounce her Hinduism before they would help her travel overseas to be educated, female friendship came to the rescue when, in 1880, a young widow in Roselle, New Jersey heard of Anandi’s tale and hunted down her address. The two of them became pen pals and best friends from across an ocean, and Theodicia put Anandi in touch with Rachel Bodley, Dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Anandi wrote to Rachel to ask for admittance to “render to my poor suffering country women the true medical aid they so sadly stand in need of, and which they would rather die for than accept at the hand of a male physician.”
Anandi was granted admission, along with a scholarship to cover her $325.50 degree and a place to live in Rachel’s own house. She finished a four-year medical degree in just three, and her thesis, “Obstetrics among the Aryan Hindoos” was the longest of the year, widely circulated, and even read by Queen Victoria!
Returning to India with her degree, Anandi accepted a position at Albert Edward Hospital in Kolhapur as the physician-in-charge of the female ward and the head of a new program to teach girls to be general practitioners. On her tragic death in October 1886 from tuberculosis at just twenty-one years old, Anandi’s ashes were sent to Theodicia, who buried them in her own family’s cemetery in Poughkeepsie.
Gimme the Hollywood movie adaptation of this amazing woman and her inspiring femship, stat.