Book Review Lady Doctors
Why I Picked This Book ?

Lady Doctors -The Untold Stories Of India’s First Women In Medicine, the title of the book was fascinating and it intrigued me. I was interested to know the stories of women who were pioneers in this field. I anticipated the book to be a great treatise to read and learn about the journey of becoming a doctor and the challenges and hardships the first Lady Doctors faced to become one.

The Book

Lady Doctors as the name suggests is about the lady doctors of India and their stories of becoming doctors. The hardships, challenges, and resistance they faced from the conservative patriarchal society of that time. The stories are about their triumphs over all the obstacles they faced and overcame to achieve what most people, especially women never even thought of attempting. There are seven chapters in the book, one dedicated to the women who were the pioneers in the world and the next six chapters are dedicated to six brilliant Indian women who despite many odds became doctors.

The author, Kavitha Rao, gives a background of the women doctors of the world to give the readers a perspective on how difficult it was for women to pursue studies at that time. There are some interesting facts that the author shares on how some women in the past disguised themselves as a man in order to study and be a doctor. Apart from the stories of the women in medicine it also tells us about the social, cultural, and religious thoughts prevalent in those times. There was a strong opposition to women doctors not only by men but also by women themselves. Their place was supposed to be at home tending the household chores and taking care of their families. The readers would come across many interesting, inspiring, and motivational stories of the women and the few men who supported them despite all odds.

The author documents and brings out many known and famous cases along with many unknown but important cases which were landmark in the fight against untouchability and towards equality. Many would not know that a progressive leader like Motilal Nehru would appeared for the accused Brahmins in a sati case. Similarly most of the leaders of Indian freedom struggle were supporters of caste system and Varna system and some were strongly against any legal reforms. 

“In April 2019, the University of Edinburgh corrected a terrible injustice of 150 years: it finally gave its first female students their degrees. These women were called the Edinburgh Seven.”

The author then takes us through the story of six Indian women doctors who despite all odds and societal and family pressure became doctors which was a great feat. They are the women who paved the path of women’s education in general and medicine specifically. Some of these women went on to become not only great doctors but social reformers and role models for many girls. Though they were not appreciated and looked down upon in those days, and every effort was made to discourage them from pursuing studies, however, they persisted.

“A thirteen-year-old girl was being beaten by her thirty-year-old husband. This was not unusual for the India of 1878, when a husband’s word was considered law. What was unusual, however, was the reason she had been found cooking, not studying.”

The above was the case of Anandibai Joshi, who went on to complete her studies in the USA and would become the first Indian women doctor at the age of twenty-one. The statement tells a lot of things about the India of 1878, the early marriage of a girl child, and the complete authority of the husband over the wife. The author presents a detailed account of the lives of six extraordinary women with all the available information she could gather about them.

The book is a journey back to the time viewed through the stories of these six great women from different parts of India. Most of them are pioneer of their own accord, some of them more defiant than others, but all of them are great and inspiring. These women not only advocated for the education of girls but raised awareness and their voices against child marriages and other social evils. Access to healthcare was possible for many Indian women due to these lady doctors, as most of the women did not go to a male doctor because they were either not allowed or were too shy to go to a male doctor.

The lady doctors paved the path for more girls to join the medical profession, although initially, the Indian nurses and lady doctors were paid less as compared to European female doctors. Things did change over time only because a few girls took the first step and said no to early marriage and were adamant about studying and choosing a path for themselves.

About The Author

Kavitha Rao is a freelance journalist and writer. She lives in Bengaluru. Kavitha has spoken at numerous literary fests, including The Times Lit Fest in Bengaluru, the Tata Lit Fest in Mumbai, and the Kasauli Lit Fest. She has also taught journalism at several colleges, including the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bengaluru, Sophia College in Mumbai, and the Times College of Journalism in Mumbai.

Our Verdict

Lady Doctors -The Untold Stories Of India’s First Women In Medicine is a must read for everyone to know about the forgotten Lady Doctors and their struggles and brilliant achievements despite all odds. A very well-written book taking the readers back in the times and letting us witness the lives of some of the great women of the not-so-distant past.

2 thoughts on “Lady Doctors”

    1. It is indeed. Though it is primarily about the Indian female doctors and their struggles to become one, it has information about the pioneers from across the world. Read about Edinburgh Seven, It is sad and joyous at the same time.

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