In the GRPI 1880-81, it was reported about female general education that “The highest point yet reached in the advance of female education is marked by the success of two girls’ schools in the University examination of December 1880. The Government Bethune School and the Free Church Normal School both sent up girls to the First Arts examination; the former two and, the latter one.” Among them Chandra Mukhi Bose from the Normal School passed in the second division, while Kadambini Bose from the Bethune School passed in the third division. Thus they “secured the distinction of being pioneers of higher education of women in Bengal.” GRPI 1881-82, under the section “Female Education”, reported –
Miss D’.Abreu, who passed the F.A. Examination, and Miss Abala Das, who passed the Entrance Examination, in December 1881, both with first grade scholarships, have joined the Madras Medical College, where provision exists for the superior instruction of women in medicine. An application had previously been made to the Council of the Medical College in Calcutta for the admission of the young ladies to that institution, to study the ordinary course presented for the degree; but it met with such determined opposition from the Professor of the College, though warmly supported by the Officiating Principal and subsequently by the Principal, that the proposal was for the time dropped. It may be predicted with confidence that this is one of those movements which no amount of opposition will finally succeed in overcoming.
Moreover, it was reported – “Four native dais passed in midwifery during the year, against eight of last year.” Truly speaking, the entry for training dais and nurses in the Medical College paved the way for female medical education in the Institution. In the GRPI 1883-84, it was reported – “Three native dais passed in midwifery, against 5 of last year. Six pupil-nurses also qualified as midwives, against the same number of the preceding year.”
GRPI 1884-85 is important for a few reasons – (1) there were three female students on the rolls on the 31st March, Mrs. Kadambini Ganguli, Bidhumukhi Bose, and Virginia Mary Mitter, (2) surgeon F. C. Chatterjee, M.D., donated Rs. 5000in 4% Government securities to be awarded to the student of the fourth-year (excluding European and Native Christians) who does best in “Practical and Theoretical Histology, Normal and Morbid”, (3) “The Maharani Swarnamayi of Cosim Bazar gave Rs. 1,50,000 to build a hostel for female students”, (4) “Dr. Bholanath Bose (one of the first four illustrious students who made their sojourn to London for higher European medical education) to the college several scientific instruments and medals, and Rs. 1000 … to the best students in bedside diagnosis of medical and surgical cases” and (5) “A new dissecting room has been sanctioned, but not yet built.”
It is remarkable that even in mi-1980s when medicine has entered the phase of “laboratory medicine” (since the mid-1840s) as a distinct departure from “hospital medicine” primarily based on bedside diagnosis and autopsy, Medical College remainrd focused on “bedside diagnosis of medical and surgical cases”, not the otherwise. Why did the phase hospital linger so late in the CMC is an issue to draw attention of researchers indeed. It will be discussed later on.
In 1887, according to The Indian Magazine female medical tuition had made a great stride in Calcutta. Sir Walter DeSouza made a generous gift of Rs. 200 a month for three years towards the enhancement of female medical education. 11 DeSouza Scholarships were offered, and “at the instance of Dr. Coates, the Medical College modified its rule of admission, making them similar to the Madras, so that a number of students were able to enter who could not have otherwise have done so.” Two more scholarships were offered by the High Priest of the Temple Badynath “who by the terms of his grant, has endeavoured to encourage women of his own religion and of high caste to undertake the study of medicine and of nursing.” British Medical Journal too reported – “eleven scholarships given by Sir Walter de Souza at Calcutta, the High Priest of the Hindoo Temple at Baidyanath has offered one of 150 rupees a year to a Hindu student of high caste, and Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit has also given a valuable scholarship to a female student at this university.”
Ambalika Guha argues that in colonial India, medicalization of childbirth has been historically perceived as an attempt to ‘sanitise’ the zenana (secluded quarters of a respectable household inhabited by women) as the chief site of birthing practices and to replace the dhais (traditional birth attendants ) with trained midwives and qualified female doctors. Moreover, medicalization of childbirth in Bengal was preceded by the reconstitution of midwifery as an academic subject and a medical discipline at the Calcutta Medical College. The consequence was the gradual ascendancy of professionalized obstetrics that prioritised research, surgical intervention and ‘surveillance’ over women’s bodies.
Borthwick observes – “Cases were reported of midwives who began pulling the infant’s head as soon as it appeared, and of others who removed the placenta by hand as soon as the infant had fully emerged.” So there was an urgent need of modernizing childbirth and proper training of traditional midwives in Medical College.
Setting the Theme against National/International Scenario
At present, medicine connects with the economy by various and different routes. Not simply in so far as it is capable of reproducing the work force, but also in that it can directly produce wealth in that health is a need for some and a luxury for others. Health becomes a consumer object, which can be produced by pharmaceutical laboratories, doctors, etc., and consumed by both potential and actual patients. As such, it has acquired economic and market value. “Thus the human body has been brought twice over into the market: first by people selling their capacity to work, and second, through the intermediary of health. Consequently, the human body once again enters an economic market as soon as it is susceptible to diseases and health, to well being or to malaise, to joy or to pain, and to the extent that it is the object of sensations, desires, etc. As soon as the human body enters the market, through health consumption, various phenomena appear which lead to dysfunctions in the contemporary system of health and medicine.” What Foucault did not mention is what the role of women might be in the field of medicine and health. It is noteworthy that the path to attain goals in the field of medicine (I refrain from talking about other fields/areas) was never strewn with flowers or petals, rather with thorns – all through the history of medicine.
In 1918, Margaret Todd while writing the biography of Sophia Jex-Blake told her readers why she wrote the book – “She was one of the people who really do live. In the present day a woman is fitted into her profession almost as a man is. Sixty years ago a highly dowered girl was faced by a great venture, a great quest. The life before her was an uncharted sea. She had to find herself, to find her way, to find her work. In many respects youth was incomparably the most interesting period of a life history.”
Who this Sophia Jex-Blake was and what is her importance in our discussion? Briefly speaking, Sophia Louisa Jex-Blake (21 January 1840 – 7 January 1912) was an English physician, teacher, and feminist. She led the campaign to secure women access to a university education, when six other women and she, collectively known as the Edinburgh Seven, began studying medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1869. She was the first practising female doctor in Scotland, and one of the first in the wider United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland; a leading campaigner for medical education for women, she was involved in founding two medical schools for women, in London and Edinburgh, at a time when no other medical schools were training women. She was also curious about the advancement of medical education in India.
In her letter on Sept. 26, 1983, to her friend some “Dearest Bel” she wrote – “You have so often wished for good medical women in India that you must now be pleased to have your wish granted. I don’t know if you know Mrs. Scharlieb who is just entering on practice at Madras, but, if you don’t, I wish you would go and call on her, and give my card. I do not know her personally, but I have corresponded with her, and respect her much for the gallant way in which she got her education, first at Madras and then coming to England to perfect herself. She passed the very difficult examinations of the University of London (M.B. and B.S.) with great distinction, and won the gold medal in Obstetrics from the whole University”. Mrs. Scharlieb is an important figure regarding female medical education in India. I will add a few more words about her later on.
However, Jex-Blake informs that on March 2nd, 1874, was held the last great meeting of the Committee for Medical Education of Women in Edinburgh. In that meeting an Indian named Rev. Narayaa Sheshadri was present. Referring to Edinburgh Professor Masson who carried the meeting, Sheshadri said in the meeting – “When he listened to Professor Masson he could almost believe that we had not yet got out of the mediaeval ages. He never thought that in the nineteenth century there could be any people who would throw obstacles in the way of female education, in this country at least … He knew that lady doctors would be hailed in his country as a great blessing, for there were innumerable females whom no male doctor was allowed to see. He knew a doctor who was asked to prescribe for a Mahometan lady, and was only allowed to examine her tongue through a hole cut in her veil … Among high caste ladies the symptoms of a disease had to be learned more from the description of some male relative than from the patients themselves.” This description gives a picture of despicable and abject situation of female in India. Hence, female education and female doctors were the need of the time.
At this juncture, it is worthy to bear in mind the cautionary note – “In India, English women doctors were able to take advantage of the racial discrimination of the colonial power to monopolize all available positions, thereby hindering the advancement of Indian women doctors. The colonial mentality, and basic self-interest, prevented English lady doctors from perceiving any common elements in their experience of discrimination. Indian women doctors were left to labor under the oppressive effects of dual discrimination on grounds of both sex and race. Whereas medicine was a prestigious profession, for the lower ranks of the bhadramahila on the margins of society, such as widows, midwifery was a more feasible career.”
More elaborately speaking, as early as 1872 the Surgeon-General of Madras, Dr. Balfour, advocated the medical education of women to meet the needs of the women of India, which he anticipated could not be met by men for the next hundred years, owing to social customs. His first suggestion was to give nurses a training at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital at Vepery for twenty or twenty-four months, or else to form a class at the Medical College. The Director of Public Instruction regarded this move as ‘entirely premature’, and recommended that women be not admitted to the Medical College. The proposal was thus vetoed for the time being. In 1874, however, Dr. Balfour again returned to the charge, and this time found a strong supporter in Dr. Furnell, then the Principal of the Medical College. In 1875 four students were admitted, all of whom were of European or Anglo-Indian descent. For such the difficulties involved in mixing with men students were naturally not so great as in the case of Indian women.
All four students entered what was then called the ‘certificate’ class. This was a shortened course of three years (since increased to four) which was available to students who had not matriculated. It was naturally taken advantage of by students who had not had the opportunity of attending high, or other schools, preparing for the university and who yet had a good general education.
These four students were the first real women medical students in India, apart from some who were given a private course of instruction, whom we shall notice later. The remarks of their teachers are of great interest.· The Principal wrote: ‘They have been remarkable for their
assiduity, regularity, keen interest and strongly marked desire to attain proficiency in every branch of the work they have so nobly undertaken.’ They all passed the final examination ‘with great credit’. One of these 4 students was Ms. Scharlieb, already mentioned in the beginning of this paper.
(Mary Scharlieb, 1875. Source: Wikipedia)
In 1882 Elizabeth Hoggan wrote – “Among high Indian officials who have recognised the necessity of training women for medical practice in the Zenana is Surgeon-General Balfour, who served for forty-two years in India. He states that the subject is one of very great importance to the women of India, vast numbers of whom do not appear in public, and need skilled medical advice which medical women could give, and he adds that he was able to obtain the sanction of Government to educate lady-students in medicine at the Medical College of Madras.” It is noteworthy that even in 1882 Calcutta did not appear in the map of female medical education in India.
The Growing Demand for Female Education in Bengal and India
For general education for women, not medical one, Bethune was advocating since 1850. On 29 March, 1850, in his letter to the “Marquis of Dalhousie, Governor General”, he wrote – “It is known to your Lordship that in the month of May last year I established a Native Female School in Calcutta.” He expressed his gratitude to “for their assistance” to Baboo Ram Gopal Ghosh “who procured” his first pupils, Baboo Dukkhina Runjin Mookerjea who donated 5 bighas of land (worth 10,000 Rupees) for the school “in the Native quarter of the town” and Pundit Madun Mohan Turkalunkar “who not only sent two daughters to the school, but has continued to attend it daily, to give gratuitous instruction to the children in Bengali”. Turkalunkar also helped in the compilation of series of Bengali books expressly for children’s use.
Bethune finally wrote in his letter – “in the time of female Sovereign a beginning should be made toward emancipating so many of Her female subjects from the degradation and misery which now their lot.” In response to Bethune’s letter, Dalhousie wrote on 1 April, 1850 – “In circulating this letter I am glad to place on record my full and unreserved approval of the main object which my Honourable Colleague has had in view in his labours for the foundation of a Female School in Calcutta.”
There was a growing pressure on colonial authority for opening the avenue of female education (in general). More than one factors intersected one another at the same time. These were – (1) the emergence of a kind of ‘refracted’ sense of European democracy in the ‘enlightened’ upper echelon of society in Bengal/India, (2) different people at different levels of society exerted their influence to make it happen, (3) as a historical coincidence, in the 1860s and 1870s some distinguished women from England came to Calcutta, who had the power to influence colonial authority in favour of female education, and, finally, (4) the influential ‘Brahmo Samaj’ of Calcutta acted as a pressure group to expedite the process.
Such interconnected and mutually-influencing factors acted as a historical boon for women’s education and empowerment. It cannot be explained by any binaries like progressive Barhams’ movement versus superstitious Hindu society’s retarding pull or progressive versus conservative English manoeuvres. It was heterogeneous, and historically a very fascinating chapter to reveal before us.
But, unfortunately enough, in England itself the progress of female medical education was much fettered even in the last quarter of the 19th century – “The legislative side of the British regulation of medicine, on the other hand, was a retarding factor. The Medical Act of 1858 stipulated that no foreign degree would qualify anyone for the medical register. Until the 1870s, all the medical doctorates won by women were foreign. Only in 1876, with the Russell Gurney Enabling Act, were women assured of medical legitimacy.” It is evident from the above analysis is that women had no right to practise in England until 1870.
Moreover, at international level, women doctors’ success owed to (a) Nonconformist Protestantism, (b) international links in the anti-slavery coalition and (c) the women’s rights movement, the liberalism of 1848 and its rebirth in Switzerland and Paris, and (d) the broad network of social reform in which women were engaged. Medicine, and not theology or law as academic and professional disciplines, stood women in good stead (even though the majority of doctors were against them) because it was an eminently practical field linked decisively with the reform issues of the day.
More examples abound in history. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917) graduated in Paris in 1870. Her road to the medical doctorate drew its direction from the British initiative for women’s education headed by Emily Davies (1830-1921), her girlhood friend. Garrett Anderson had been able to enter the medical register of Great Britain in 1866, the first woman after Blackwell (first medical woman in the U.S) to do so, because she qualified as a licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. This, however, was not intentional on the society’s part; they had inadvertently failed to include a sex clause. It may be noted that the medical colleges of Geneva and of Western Reserve University changed their admission rules to debar woman after their first laudable liberalism.
Female medical education in Bengal/India should be seen against this changing perspective in Britain and, internationally too. In 1874 London School of Medicine of Women (L. S. M. E) was founded. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first medical graduate in England. Though, in a recent paper it has been claimed that Isabel Thorne, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans, Mary Anderson and Emily Bovell were the first 6 women doctors in Englad, graduating from Edinburgh. The women were led by Sophia Jex-Blake who was determined to practise as a doctor and had already visited the US the hope of studying there. She had no success in convincing universities in England to accept her and turned her attention north.
However, with the arrival of Miss Mary Carpenter, a philanthropic English lady and a friend of the Women’s welfare movement, in Calcutta on the 20 November 1866, new endeavours were made in this direction. With the help of some of the ardent advocates of the cause of women’s education in Bengal, such as Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Keshub Chunder Sen, Manomohan Ghose and Dwijendra Nath Tagore, she suggested the necessity of opening up a non-denominational normal school in the metropolis. She insisted that the greatest obstacle to the improvement of females’ schools and to the expansion of female education was indeed a dearth of female teachers. In 1868, the Secretary of State approved her proposal and the Government of India’s scheme for the establishment of females’ normal schools in the Presidencies of Bengal, Madras and Bombay was well under way. A sum of Rs. 12,000 was designated for this purpose over a five-year period. The Female Normal School survived for only three years. In the latter half of this period, Dwaranath Ganguly, editor of Abalabandhab, a Bengali monthly, worked earnestly to make the school a success.
(Abalabandhab Patrika, 1st volume, 1st issue)
In 1870, Annette Akroyd, one of the first graduates of Girton College (the first Cambridge women’s college to become coeducational), came to Calcutta. She worked in close connection with Dwarakanath Ganguly, the editor of Abalabandhab, to expedite the cause of female education in Bengal. Borthwick comments – “In Abalabandhab, a women’s journal run by the progressive Brahmos who had managed the Banga Mahila Bidyalaya, Girton College was again held up as the model for the education to be given at Bethune School.”
New Administrative Steps for Female Education in Bengal
It should be remembered that, unlike Europe, there was no social revolutions or churning of the societal relations from the below which led to the gradual evolution and the emergence of modern society. In India or Bengal there were some social reformations at the upper rung of social hierarchy. In this sense, it was not a true modernity, rather an ‘engrafted’ one.
Following the impact of interactions with England and successive coming of Mary Carpenter and Annette Akroyd, changes in the outlook of the Calcutta University too began to be visible. At the Senate meeting of the University on 15 March, 1879, the Vice Chancellor Alexander Arbuthnot clearly stated – “I refer to the fact of the Senate having passed rules for the examination of female candidates, under the operation of which one Hindu young lady, educated at the Bethune School, passed the Entrance Examination with great credit. The young lady to whom I refer, Kadambini Bosu, obtained very high marks in Bengali, very tolerable marks in history; and even in the exact sciences – a subject which is not usually considered to be congenial to the female intellect – she acquitted herself very creditably.”
He went further – “Two years ago this subject was dwelt upon by one of the ablest of my predecessors (William Markby) in this office, and very recently it has formed the subject of an eloquent speech from our Chancellor … I will only say that in the question of whether women of this country are to be educated, is one which can only be settled by men, and mainly by the educated classes”.
Prior to this, in the meeting of the Senate on 27 April, 1878, some important decisions were taken by the University regarding female candidates aspiring to sit for B.A. examination – “(2) Female candidates shall be allowed to take up the subjects prescribed by the University of Calcutta for the B. A. Course, with the option of substituting French, German, Italian, or an Indian vernacular for the second language.”
(3) “Female candidates shall also be allowed to substitute Political Economy for the mathematical subjects in this examination.”
It may be interesting to note that female candidates were given choice to take political economy instead of mathematical subjects. Implicitly, does it indicate that females are inherently weak at so-called ‘hard’ or ‘core’ sciences like mathematics so that they could take a less hard subject like political economy? We do not have any definite answer. But the question looms large.
However, since the General Report on Public Instruction in Bengal (hereafter GRPI), 1870-71, reports on the progress of female education in general began to appear. The report on female education was divided into three parts – (1) basic education at village pathshalas, (2) education at normal schools or private schools established out of nationalist spirit, and (3) education at college. Medical education was not included. Rather, by the time, it did not start at all.
In its Senate meeting on April 19, 1879, Calcutta University took some important resolutions on examination for females. The resolutions were – (1) “Female candidates shall be examined in separate place under the superintendence of ladies.” (2) “No female candidate shall be admitted to any examination without presenting a certificate in the form to be prescribed by a Member of the Senate or the head of an affiliated institution.” (3) In all examinations the paid by the female candidates shall be the same as those paid by males.” (4) “No unsuccessful candidate shall be entitled to a refund of her fee.”
In the GRPI, 1879-80, such were the reports on female education.
Importantly, it was reported – “the Government Bethune School was raised to the status of a college by the appointment of a lecturer to teach the First Arts course. The only student in this department of the school was Miss Kadambini Bose, who passed the Entrance Examination in December 1878. In March last the Lieutenant-Governor General sanctioned the admission to the college class of Miss D’Abreu, who passed the Entrance Examination in December 1879. By the admission of Miss D’Abreu, the question has been decided as to the admission to the new college classes of other than Hindoo girls.”
Female Medical Education – Nurses and Doctors
To emphasize, female medical education in Madras started much earlier than Bengal or CMC. E. G. Balfour, surgeon-general of Madras Presidency, took great initiative. He attempted to influence the government to introduce medical education in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam languages but failed. He worked towards encouraging European women to enter the medical service in India since he believed that women could move more freely within certain sections of Indian society. This move succeeded and in 1875, Mary Scharlieb (already mentioned) was admitted to the Madras Medical College as its first woman applicant.
The Indian Medical Gazette, mouthpiece of the doctors of all fields in India of the time, reported – “efforts have for some years been made with considerable success to train women as nurses and midwives … At the same time it is fair to state that Surgeon-General Balfour pronounces the Madras system to have been “in every way successful; and he adds “recently a Hindu gentlemen of standing in society sent for one of the dipolmated nurses to attend his wife in sickness” … The final issue was that, after some interchange of correspondence, a scheme, drawn up by the Principal of the Medical College, was accepted. Women are to obtain instruction in Pharmacy, Anatomy, Physiology, Medicine, Surgery, Midwifery and diseases of women in the college. They are to study all these subjects in common with male students with the exception of Midwifery and Surgery, a few lectures in Anatomy and Physiology excepted. In the exceptional subjects they are to have separate instructions. They are to have a room set apart, for them to study with a convenient bath- room, &c., and they may, if they desire to undergo the full curriculum for the degree of M. D., also do that.”
Even the foundation of “The Female Medical School at Bareilly” was reported in the same issue of the same journal. “The school was originally started in 1867, and arose out of an attempt to “teach some of the midwives of the town and district of Bareilly a little midwifery.”
To mention, training in midwifery to produce modern nurses started in the CMC started from the year 1870. The emergence of modern medical women being my focus, I will limit myself to some brief sketches of nursing/midwifery training at CMC.
Regarding trained midwives it was reported – “This system of instruction has also been actively taken up in the Lower Provinces, and with the pecuniary assistance granted by Government, the classes ought in a year or two to provide efficient midwives for many of the large towns. Classes at present are only formed at the Medical College, Calcutta, and at the Mitford Hospital, Dacca.” Even a Bengali journal Bamabodhini Patrika fervently advocated for training in modern midwifery.
(Bamabodhini Patrika, 1870)
Florence Nightingale’s personal interest about nursing in India might have further prompted definite training programs for trained midwives, NOT nurses necessarily. Nightingale wrote on 10 February, 1865, to some Miss. Jones – “Of course if we train for India, we must advertise and engage women expressly for that purpose, as health and other circumstances must be taken into account.”
To note, the death rate around the time was quite disappointing compared to international standard. In the 1871-81 decade, life expectancy was meagre 24.6 years and implied death rate was 40.7 per mile.
Keeping this broad perspective in mind, CMC started its training courses for midwives from 1870. “Initially, twelve women were enrolled for a one-year training course. As usual, concern was expressed that all women selected for the course should be “respectable.” Special purdah arrangements were considered necessary to attract such women, and extra vigilance was required to deter those of “bad repute.” It had perhaps earned a good repute and demand among the upper section of society of the time. “In 1879 Srimati J. L. Ghosh and Srimati T. M. Ray, “midwives, holding diploma of the Calcutta Medical College Hospital,” proudly advertised their practice at 103 College Street, Calcutta, in the pages of Brahmo Public Opinion. By 1880 there were about half a dozen trained midwives practicing in Calcutta. Their success was attracting others from the mofussil, and expansion of the training
program was recommended because of the increasing supply of recruits. Many “Hindoo widows of respectable families” were prepared to take up midwifery.”
The beginning of educating nurses and midwives in a modern medical college was the first stepping stone toward female medical education in India/Bengal. Training female medical doctors came at a later stage. One more thing should be noted here – there was an increasing market for trained nurses/midwives who sold their expertise to earn. At the same time, there was also the same for printed books for learning new techniques of nursing/midwifery.
The new equation of knowledge and expertise production and the new tie with the market may be represented thus – modern knowledge/technique production at the CMC > growing market, at least at the upper section of Bengali ‘Bhadralok’, for delivery assisted by modern techniques > selling the expertise > education to earn > new demand for printed books > diffusion of the perception of superiority of European knowledge.
Doctors studying in the Calcutta Medical College took midwifery as part of their training. The Midwifery Hospital of the Medical College introduced the use of ether and chloroform in delivery in 1840s, but it is not known whether it was used in home births as well. Only the poorest low-caste women entered hospitals for childbirth, and even then many were only sent there by midwives after complications had developed.
Female Doctors in Their Own Right
“In England, women were allowed to take medical degrees until 1877. In contrast with nursing, the medical profession was seen as eminently suitable for middle-class women. In Bengal it was customary for low-caste women to practice midwifery and for a few others to become kabirajes, but women’s right to medical education was not immediately accepted.”
Dr. Coates, the principal of the Calcutta Medical College, favored the admission of women to medical studies, observing that “if any gentlemen will endow the class and produce the ladies, we will do our best to aid such a good and useful work—one more needed in India than in any other country.” Protracted negotiations went on before the scheme was finally implemented. When his daughter passed her final examinations at Bethune College in 1882, Durga Mohan Das applied to the Department of Public Instruction for permission to enroll her in the Calcutta Medical College. The request was turned down, and she was forced to go to Madras to further her studies. In 1883 the government passed a resolution admitting women to the college. The minimum admission requirement was a pass in the F.A., although many thought that this could be lowered to the E.A. without significantly lowering standards, and would guarantee quicker results.
I have already detailed about the degrees from the Minutes of the Senate of University of Calcutta. All those aspiring female candidates for complete medical degree had hard earned these qualifications prior to their admission in medical colleges – be it in Madras or Bengal.
Against this whole perspective, it is more striking to read the report of 1881-82 session – “Miss D’Abreu, who passed the F.A. Examination, and Miss Abala Das, who passed the Entrance Examination, in December 1881, both with first grade scholarships, have joined the Madras Medical College, where provision exists for the superior instruction of women in medicine. An application had previously been made to the Medical College in Calcutta for the admission to the young ladies to that institution, to study the ordinary course presented for the degree; but met with such determined opposition from the Professor of the College, though warmly supported by the Officiating Principal and subsequently by the Principal, that the proposal was for the time dropped. It may be predicted with confidence that this is one of the movements which no amount of opposition will finally succeed in overcoming.”
A number of important issues come up here – (1) even after brilliant result, Ms. Ellen Barbara D’Abreu and Ms. Abala Das (later married to the famous scientist Jagadish Chandra Bose) were denied admission to the first Indian/Asian Medical College because of gender question, as they were females, (2) Madras Medical College, which started teaching complete medical course to the females, was more advanced in this regard to resolve the gender question of medical education, (3) British authorities were sensitive to this issue and agreed to admit female students, and, finally, (4) the ‘progressive’ Bengali professors were the only detrimental force to the admission of these two ladies, which was a scar in the image of Bengal having ‘progressive ideas’. Professor R. C. Chandra vehemently opposed the admission of female students in the CMC.
(Abala Das (Bose) and J C Bose) (Ellen Barbra D’Abreu in the middle, Madras Medical College)
After protracted struggles, it was historically noted – “The most notable event in the history of female education in Bengal was the success of Kadambini Bose and Chandra Mukhi Bose of Bethune school in the examination for the B.A. degree. Kadambini Bose, now Mrs. Gangooly, has under recent arrangements, obtained her admission into the Medical College as a regular student. His Honor the Lieutenant-Governor, taking into consideration all the difficulties suggested by the Council of the Medical College, decided that no sufficient reasons existed for the exclusion of duly qualified young ladies from the study of medicine in the institution. The Government Resolution of the 29th June 1883 pointed out that “already these provinces have suffered from the Council’s failure to take a broad and unprejudiced view on this question; for the Lieutenant-Governor learns to his regret that some Bengali ladies, fully qualified by the educational attainments for admission to the College, have had to betake themselves to the more liberal Presidency of Madras, there to prosecute those medical studies from which the Council of the Calcutta Medical College has excluded them.”
Further, in a more stern note, it was reported – “It is, in Mr. Rivers Thompson’s (the then Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal) opinion, clearly opposed to the public good, as well as to legitimate private interests, that such a state of things should continue, and that the educational system of Bengal, progressive in other respects, should be illiberal and retrograde in this … The Lieutenant-Governor therefore considers it his duty to support this movement; and he looks on the objections which have been made to it, on the ground of the difficulty of teaching mixed classes, or the alleged inaptitude of females for the profession of medicine, as unsubstantial and obsolete. Experience gained in Europe, in America, and in Madras has shown that mixed classes can be taught without any bad results; while the aptitude of women for the study and profession of medicine is, in the Lieutenant-Governor’s opinion, no longer open to discussion or doubt.” Following this firm and harrowing note from the Lieutenant-Governor, “The College authorities have cordially carried out the measure, which cannot fail to be lasting benefit to the female population of India.”
Just after Hoggan’s writing in 1882 when Calcutta did not appear in the horizon of female medical doctors in India, it was reported – “The admission of females to the classes of the Medical College during the year under report marks a new stage in the history of medical education in Bengal.” The delay in admitting female students for admission into the CMC, which has already been discussed to an extent, was detailed in the Report.
The question was first raised in the year 1876, and it then met with a favourable reception from Sir Richard Temple, who was Lieutenant-Governor. It was again discussed in 1879; but on neither occasion with any practical results. In 1881 the question was brought before the Council of the Medical College by this Department, in connexion with a wish expressed by the parents of certain young ladies, who had passed the Entrance or the First Arts examination of the Calcutta University that their daughters might be permitted to attend the Medical College. The Council, however, refused sanction to the proposal on various grounds, the most solid being the undesirability of reducing the standard of qualification for admission to the college; one of the points in the proposal having been that women should be admitted after passing the Entrance examination only.
The question was then submitted for the orders of Government, the proposal for reducing the standard for admission being abandoned. Government took. a broad and liberal view of the matter; and not only sanctioned the admission of women to the Medical College on the same terms as men, but guaranteed the young ladies every facility in the prosecution of their medical studies. Special female scholarships of the value of Rs. 20 a month, tenable for five years in the Medical College, were created, and will be awarded for the next ten years, without restriction of numbers, to all female candidates who join the Medical College after passing the First Arts examination. In some subjects the young ladies attend separate, in others common lectures. All the classes worked most successfully, and not a single hitch or difficulty has occurred.
Prior to 1876, in 1875, one Brahmo leader Nilkamal Mitra applied for admission of his granddaughter Biraj in ‘hospital assistant’ course. But it was outright rejected. After that A. W. Coates, the Director of Public Education, wrote a letter to the Principal of the CMC requesting permission for admission of two brilliant ladies Abala Das and Ellen Barbra D’Abreu into the CMC. But vehement and determined opposition of the College Council subverted the proposal.
Here, a pertinent question should be asked – why the Bengali professor of the CMC was so much bitterly opposed to the entry of the female students into the College? We will try to find plausible answers at different layers. First, as Murshid has shown severe debates and anxiety as well erupted within the Bengali community since 1870s about the supposedly new habits and clothes for the newly educated Bengali women. It could etch out a distinct identity within the traditional and patriarchal ‘Bhadralok’ Bengali society. Second, so far women had been seen through the ‘male gaze’, now it seemed to be a topsy-turvy situation. Women could attain a space of their own and they could see the patriarchal society through their gaze, which was never acceptable to the society. Third, as Sen and Das have pointed out – “The notion of an irreducible physiological divide between the male and the female underpinned gender difference; and the assertion of masculine superiority presupposed the impossibility of a feminine gaze” which could result in “the discursive space of the medical classroom required exclusively male participation. The admission of women into that space, subjecting the male body to the female gaze, even if it was a ‘scientific’ scrutiny, was an especially threatening prospect.”
After all these happenings we can revisit Kadambini’s brilliant, focused and gallant journey.
The first two female graduates of Bengal Kadambini Bose and Chandramukhi Bose took different tracks for further education. Chandramukhi opted for higher studies in M.A. “But Kadambini Bose, (now Mrs. Gangly being married, on 12th June, 1883, to the Brahmo leader Dwarakanath Ganguly) forsook the beaten track and applied to the authorities of the Calcutta Medical College for admission as a regular student of the college … Now the Brahmo leaders headed by Dwarakanth Ganguly started an agitation for opening the precincts of the Medical College to women.”
Further, “before the movement could gather momentum, the then Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, Sir Rivers Thompson, intervened … The decision was given immediate effect to by allowing Kadambini Ganguly to enter the Medical College. The decision of the Lieutenant-Governor was couched in the Government Resolution of the 29th June, 1883. Since the resolution was rightly considered a landmark in the history of women’s education in this part of India…” Kadmbini was admitted in the CMC in 1883. The Government Resolution finally observed – “And if the success of the pupils be established in the capital, there is no reason why our medical schools in the provinces should not afford opportunities for a more general extension of the policy, with incalculable advantage to the country.”
(Dwarakanath and Kadambini Ganguly)
From the Report of 1887-88 we come to know – “In 1888 nine candidates passed the First M.B. examination – two in the first and seven in the second division. Miss Virginia Mary Mitter headed the list of the successful candidates.” From the Medical College “Mrs. Kadambini Ganguly, B.A., has passed the special certificate examination.” Below is a copy of her first L.M.S. examination.
But Kadambini’s fateful days did not end up with this achievement. It was thorny and bleeding her emotionally. Only her passion and determination to become a female medical doctor valiantly overcame all these hurdles.
The editor of the Dainik Bharat newspaper describes the vicissitudes Kadambini had to pass through – “She secured pass marks by giving correct answers to all the subjects taught in the Medical College. But at the Medical College there was a Bengali professor (Dr. Rudrachandra Chandra) who was vehemently opposed to female education. He deprived Kadambini of one mark for the required pass mark in practical examination. Though the Principal of the Medical College (Dr. J. M. Coates) did know very well that Kadambini had enough aptitude in that subject, though he did not have the power to overrule the decision of the professor in regard to the examination and marks. So he could not award with the M.B. degree to Kadambini.” The year was 1886.
But Dr. Coates had one option before him. Before the CMC came under the jurisdiction of the Calcutta University, principal had the supreme power to confer the Graduate of the Bengal Medical College (G.B.M.C.) degree. By the time Kadambini had passed her examinations, there was no new University regulation or order which rescinded or revoked the existing power of the principal. Virtually, it was in vogue until then. But, for many years after the introduction of L.M.S. and M.B. degree that particular degree was not given to anyone. “Nevertheless he awarded the G.B.M.C. degree to Kadambini and the right/power to treat patients. And he posted her in the Eden Hospital of the CMC, which was meant for female doctors and patients.” In 1888, Kadambini was appointed to Lady Dufferin Women’s Hospital, Calcutta on a decent salary of Rs. 300 per month. But it was not a pleasant experience. She felt sneered at by the fellow doctors, as she did not have a M.B. degree.
She felt that she was looked down upon by the British lady doctors too. She had also an unimaginable, insulting and humiliating experience of one’s life time in Calcutta. Once she was called upon by a rich family to attend a teenage girl during her childbirth. After the delivery when the mother and child were doing well, Kadambini and her assistant were served food at the varandah as if they were maidservants. Moreover, they were asked to clean and wipe the place. Kadambini felt the strong urge within herself to attain higher medical education to come at par with other doctors, especially male ones.
Dwarakanath too was not satisfied with this outcome and, consequently, sent her to England for higher medical education. The government announced scholarship of Rs 20 to every female student of medicine. Kadambini received the scholarship with retrospective effect from July 1883. Then she went to United Kingdom in 1892 and qualified as LRCP (Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians) (Edinburgh), LRCS (Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons) (Glasgow) and GFPS (Dublin). There were 14 candidates for these diplomas. Kadambini was singularly the only female candidate, and had attained it. After her return to India, she worked for a short period at the Lady Dufferin Hospital, Calcutta with a salary of Rs 300/- per month. Then she started her own practice in obstetrics and gynaecology.
Florence Nightingale’s Interest about Kadambini
On December 1, 1887, a lady none other than Florence Nightingale wrote to her friend Mary Scharlieb – “I am so stupid I cannot find my memorandum of the name of that Hindu lady [Ganguly] who will graduate at Calcutta next spring as a qualified medical woman and whom her cousin, a friend of mine, Mrs. Manmohun Ghose, of Calcutta, asked me to mention to Lady Dufferin. But I shall find the memorandum and then by your kind leave ask you.” On 20 February, 1888, Nightingale again wrote to Scharlieb – “Do you know or could you tell me anything about this lady Mrs. Ganguly, or give me any advice?… asked me to recommend Mrs. Ganguly, if she is successful, to Lady Dufferin, for any post about the female wards in Calcutta. Mrs. Ganguly is, I believe, a young woman of high caste and cultivation and it would be a great encouragement to the Hindu ladies to embrace medicine if she were appointed. The Hindu lady’s name is Mrs. Kadambini Ganguly still studying in the Medical College at Calcutta; [she] has already passed what is called the first licentiate of medicine and surgery examinations and is to go up for the final examination March next. (This young lady, Mrs. Ganguly, married! After she had made up her mind to become a doctor! And has had one; if not two children since. But she was only absent thirteen days for her lying-in! And did not miss, I believe, a single lecture!!)”
It is almost unimaginable to think that a lady in her full term of pregnancy missed only 13 days of her classes. Such was stuff and grit Kadambini was made of. Being a woman, Nightingale came to realize fully this sensational fact and paid her tribute Kadambini in writing.
In 1891, the orthodox Hindu journal Bangabasi lashed out at Mrs. Ganguli as a despised symbol of modern Brahmo womanhood and accused her, a mother of five children, of being a whore. Immediately, Sivanath Sastri, Nilratan Sircar, and her husband Dwarkanath instituted legal action against the journal and its editor. On May 3, 1891, the India Messenger said the following about the social issue underlying the continued persecution of Brahmos: “The logic is that maintenance of female virtues is incompatible with their social liberty. Every woman may enjoy freedom. Therefore a vast majority of them are unchaste. Farces are written against us and performed in theaters that continually ridicule and heckle … our work of female emancipation. Newspapers cast foul aspersions…”
Ganguli fought bitterly, as he did always, not only to defend his wife but to support the principle of liberating women against what he considered the forces of narrow privilege. On July 12, the Brahmo Public Opinion announced jubilantly that the libel case had been settled and that the accused was found guilty. Mohesh Chandra Pal, the Bangabasi editor, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment and made to pay a fine of one hundred rupees.
Dwarakanath Ganguly was a relentless activist to uphold the cause of deprivation and despicable situation of poor working class people of India. He went to do his survey in the Assam gardens and expose the real situation existing there – “making an on-the-spot study of European oppression as well as of labourers’ appalling conditions of life. His reports were all serially published in the Sanjibani.” Kadambini was a truthful companion of all his activities. But Dwarakanth’s efforts were in vain as the Madras session of the Indian National Congress in 1887 refused to discuss the matter as “being a provincial one.”
In the Congress session of Calcutta of 1890, Swarnakumari Debi, Kadambini and Pandita Ramabai held the most illustrious presence. “The Sanjibani of 10 January 1891 reported: ‘The last Congress saw more than a hundred native ladies. And not only did native ladies attend the Congress, but one of them, Mrs. Kadambini Ganguly, B.A., even addressed the assembly. How delightful it was to see one of the India’s daughters addressing such an assembly in!”
Even a personality like Annie Besant open-mindedly aplauded Kadambini’s feat – “Mrs. Kadambini Ganguli, was called on to move the vote of thanks to the Chairman, the first woman who spoke from the Congress platform, a symbol that India’s freedom would uplift India’s Womanhood.” Interestingly, she was also famous for knitting yards of fine and beautiful lace at the same time.
Perhaps, as a continuation of her urge for doing well for her country and people, she organized the Women’s Conference in Calcutta in 1906 in the aftermath of the partition of Bengal. In 1908, she organized and presided over a meeting at Calcutta for expressing sympathy with Satyagraha workers of Transvaal, South Africa. At that time, she took initiative to form an association to collect money for helping the workers. She presided over the meeting of the Sadharan Brahma Samaj, held in Calcutta in 1914, in honour of Gandhi during his visit to Calcutta. Labourers in the tea gardens of Assam were heavily exploited by their employers. Dwarakanath Ganguly condemned the exploitation, as already described in somewhat details, and Kadambini fully supported her husband. In 1922, she went with the poet Kamini Roy to look into the conditions of women labourers employed in the Bihar and Orissa coal mines on behalf of an Enquiry Commission set up by the Government.
Moreover, “In the year 1915 Kadambini Ganguly criticised the system of Calcutta Medical College to restrict the admission of women which made Calcutta Medical College to change their system and include female students.”
The “Sick New-Born Care Unit” of the CMC now bears a plaque named after her.
(Courtesy – Dr. Mrinmay Bera)
Finally, maybe it is fortunate that Kadambini who fought throughout her life for women’s freedom and India’s independence did not live to see the incidents of Hathras gang rape and murder or the case of Nirbhya.
Let us remember her illustrious and straggling life in our living and daily practices. Here is the tribute from an American journal of eminence – “Being the first woman physician in the whole of South Asia, in a community that opposed women education, the life and achievements of Dr Kadambini Ganguly are remarkable and lesson by itself for the future generations.”
 GRPI 1880-81, 87.
 Ibid, 88.
 GRPI 1881-82, 92.
 Ibid, 102.
 GRPI 1883-84, 113.
 GRPI 1884-85, 86.
 The Indian Magazine, May 1887 (197): 229.
 Ibid, 229.
 British Medical Journal (Oct. 27, 1888): 249.
 Ambalika Guha, Modernizing Childbirth in Colonial Bengal A History of Institutionalization and Professionalization of Midwifery, c.1860-1947, Ph.D. thesis (Victoria University of Wellington, 2015).
 Meredith Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 1849-1905 (Princeton, NJ: 1984): 155.
 Michel Foucault, “The Crisis of Medicine or the Crisis of Antimedicine?”, Foucault Studies, 1 (2004): 5-19, quotation on p. 16.
 Margaret Todd, ‘Preface’ in The Life of Sophia Jex-Blake, (London: Macmillan and Co., 1918), vii.
 Ibid, 478.
 Sophia Jex-Blake, Medical Women: A thesis and a History (Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson, & Ferrier, 1886), 153-154. [Italics added]
 Meredith Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 1849-1905 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 326-327.
 Margaret I. Balfour and Ruth Young, The Work of Medical Women in India (London: Oxford University Press, 1929), 103. Mary Scharlieb wrote the ‘Foreword’ of the book.
 Frances Elizabeth Hoggan, Medical Women for India (Bristol: J. W. Arrowsmith, 1882), 7.
 J. A. Richey, Selections from Educational Records, Pt. II, 1840-1859 (Calcutta: Superintendent Government Printing, 1922), 52.
 Ibid, 53.
 Ibid, 56. [Italics added]
 Ibid, 56. [Italics added]
 Johanna Geyer-Kordesch, “Women in Medicine”, in Companion Encyclopedia of the History of Medicine, ed., W. F. Bynum and Roy Porter, Vol. 2 (New York: Routledge, 1993), 888-914. Quotation on p. 898.
 Bryan Christie, “First women to study medicine in the UK are honoured”, British Medical Journal, 365 (2019): l1635.
 Rachana Chakraborty, “Women’s Education and Empowerment in Colonial Bengal”, in Responding to the West: Essays on Colonial Domination, and Asian Agency, ed., Hans Hagerdal, (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2009), 87-101.
 Kamal K. Mishra, The History of Brahmo Smaj – Adi Brahmo Samaj (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 1957), 163-165.
 Meredith Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 1849-1905, 1984 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), 95.
 University of Calcutta – Minutes for the Year 1878-79 (Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent, 1879), 110.
 Ibid, 111,
 Ibid, 3. 2 and 3 are resolution serials.
 University of Calcutta – Minutes for the Year 1878-79, 147.
 GRPI 1879-80, 82.
 Ibid, 82. [Italics added]
 “Female Education in Madras”, Indian Medical Gazette (hereafter IMG, October 1, 1875): 274-275.
 “The Female Medical School at Bareilly”, idem, 275.
 “Native Midwives”, IMG (1 October, 1870): 214.
 Florence Nightingale on Women, Medicine, Midwifery and Prostitution, ed., Lynn McDonald (Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005), 94.
 Ira Klein, “Death in India, 1871-1921”, Journal of Asian Studies, Vol. 32, No. 4 (Aug., 1973): 639-659.
 Borthwick, idem, 327.
 Ibid, 327.
 Jayanta Bhattacharya, Medical College er Itihas, 1822 to 1860 (History of Medical College, 1822-1860) (Calcutta: Pranati Prakashana, 2022).
 Borthwick, The Changing Role of Women in Bengal, 322.
 Ibid, 322-323.
 GRPI 1881-82, 92. [Italics added]
 GRPI 1882-83, 70-71.
 Ibid, 71. [Italics added]
 GRPI 1883-84, 113.
 West Bengal State Archives, Finance (Education), File no. 42, Proceedings 2-5, April 1875, pp. 103-105.
 West Bengal State Archives, Letter from DPI to the Principal, Medical College, Calcutta, proposing admission of women, 5th May, 1882.
 WBSA, General Education, 10th June, 1882.
 Ghulam Murshid, Reluctant Debutante: Response of Bengali Women to Modernisation, 1849-1905 (Rajshahi: Rajshahi Sahitya Samsad, 1983), especially Appendix 3. Also see, Murshid, Ras Sundari Theke Rokeya (Dhaka: Abasar, 2013), especially chapter 6.
 Samita Sen and Anirban Das, “A History of the Calcutta Medical College and Hospital, 1835–1936” in Science and Modern India: An Institutional History, c. 1784-1947, ed. Uma Dasgupta (Delhi: Pearson Longman, 2011), 477-552. Quotation on 497.
 Bethune School & College, Centenary Volume 1849-1949, ed. Kalidas Nag (Calcutta: Sri Saraswati Press, 1951), 42.
 Ibid, 42-43.
 Ibid, 44.
 GRPI 1887-88, 73.
 GRPI 1888-89, 56.
 Prabhatchandra Gangopadhyay, Bangar Nari-Jagaran (Calcutta: Sadharan Brahmo Samaj, 1945), 89.
 Ibid, 89.
 B. K. Sen “Female Graduate of British Empire: Kadambini Ganguly”, Science Reporter (July 2014): 53-55.
 Prabhatchandra Gangopadhyay, Bangar Nari-Jagaran, 89.
 Anjana Chattoapadhyay, Women Scientists in India: Lives, Struggles and Achievements (Delhi: National Book Trust, 2018), 141.
 Florence Nightingale on Social Change in India, Collected Works, volume 10, ed., Gerard Vallee (Canada: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2007), 763-764.
 David Kopf, Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 126.
 Nirmal Sinha, Freedom Movement in Bengal 1818-1904: Who’s Who (Calcutta: Academic Publishers, 1968), 415.
 Ibid, 416.
 Ibid, 556.
 Ibid, 556-557.
 Annie Besant, How India Wrought for Freedom: The Story of the National Congress Told from Its Records (Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1915), 116.
 B. K. Sen, idem, 55.
 Chandrani Sadhya, “One of the Pioneers in Western Medicine – Dr. Kadambini Ganguly”, Aegafum Journal, 2020 8(4): 962-967. Quotation on 967.
 Amrith R. Rao, Omer Karim and H. Motiwala“The Life and Work of Dr Kadambini Ganguly, the First Modern Indian Woman Physician”, The Journal of Urology 2007, 177 (4): 354.