A Little Bit of History

Aren’t you just dying to know these women’s stories? Apparently, they were all medical students from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.

Joshi is the best known of the three, perhaps because of how popular the medical profession is among Indians and Indian Americans. In India, Joshi’s life story became the basis for a 1992 novel and subsequent award-winning play (and was nearly turned into a movie). In America, the feminist Caroline Healey Dall wrote a biography of the young doctor as early as 1888, full of praise for Joshi’s “high-born consciousness.”

You can understand the fascination. On paper, Joshi’s life seems hugely regressive, but in reality it was anything but. She was married off at the age of nine, to a 20-year-old man. Unusually, he believed fervently that she should be educated, and took her lessons on himself.

According to Woolf’s report, what impelled Joshi to pursue medicine was the death of her 10-day old baby, a tragedy that struck when she was herself only 14. As she learned, and as Woolf points out, “medical care for women — even high-caste women like Joshi — was simply unavailable.”

I can’t stop thinking about what it must have been like to travel across the world in 1885 as an Asian women to attend medical school in Philadelphia. So many stories!

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