These three women are graduates of The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP). Their accomplishment is made more extraordinary because it was achieved during an era where discrimination based on gender and ethnicity was commonplace. This photograph was taken as a memento of the Dean’s reception on October 10, 1885.
The Quakers of Pennsylvania can be credited with the creation of WMCP, the first women’s medical college in the world! In addition to their active role in the abolitionist movement, the Quakers were also strong advocates of women’s rights. The WMCP is also well known by followers of the popular Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman series, as the college attended by the fictional character, Michaela Quinn.
Dr. Anandibai Joshee
The story of Dr. Anandibai Joshee is one of inspiration and tragedy. Born to a wealthy Brahmin family in India, she was married at the age of nine to a man twenty years her senior. Her husband, a progressive thinker, encouraged her to learn how to read, write and study, not only in Sanskrit, but in English — an extraordinary pursuit in a time when the education of women was uncommon. Anandibai gave birth to a son when she was only fourteen years old, but the child died ten days later. The absence of lifesaving medical access, motivated her to pursue an education in medicine.
When Anandibai’s health took a downturn, an American supporter forwarded medications but to no avail. Her husband urged her to forge ahead and pave the way for other Indian women with similar interests. She received pressure from all sides. The Americans who offered to help with lodging and college applications, insisted that she convert to Christianity. Persecution by her Hindu community ceased when she gave a public speech promising not to convert. Anandibai also commented on her country’s need for medical practitioners and her intent to return home and open a women’s medical college. The Viceroy and many others from across India gave rupees to help cover her expenses. Although she contracted tuberculosis in America, she somehow managed her studies.
Anandibai graduated from the Women’s Medical Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1886 and returned to Calcutta where she was highly celebrated. Even Queen Victoria sent her a message of congratulations. Not only was she the first Indian woman to earn a degree in Western medicine, she is possibly the first Hindu woman to arrive in America. Anandibai succumbed to tuberculosis at age 22, less than a year after her return to India.
Dr. Kei Okami
Dr. Kei Okami was the first Japanese woman to complete a degree in Western medicine. She began her first career as a teacher Sakurai Girl’s School at the age of twenty. Five years later, she married and emigrated to the United States with her husband.
With the financial support of The Women’s Foreign Missionary Society of the Presbyterian Church, Kei was able to attend WMCP. She graduated four years later in 1885. After returning to Japan, Kei was appointed head of gynecology at the Jikei Hospital in Tokyo. She resigned from her post a few years later when the Emperor refused to receive her during hospital visit because she was a woman. Her life experiences continued to be eclectic. She returned to the field of education as a vice principal and again to medicine. Kei opened a small hospital in 1897 that ran successfully for nine years and around the same time, she opened a nursing school. She also served in the mission field of Japan, sharing her strong devotion to the Christian faith.
Dr. Sabat Islambooly
Less is known about Dr. Sabat Islambooly. She returned to Damascus and it’s believed that she went on to Cairo, Egypt.
February 9, 2014 at 5:06 pm
Thanks for sharing these fascinating insigths! Anandibai’s story is uplifting but distressing (child marriage) and tragic (early death)!
February 9, 2014 at 5:18 pm
Agreed. I am so curious about her husband’s motivations also. Hmm.
February 10, 2014 at 12:24 pm
This is solid historical journalism, do you write for a newspaper or magazine? Because Gwen, I think it is time you should.
February 11, 2014 at 5:49 pm
I certainly do appreciate the fine complement. It is always affirming to receive such a comment from another writer whose work you enjoy. I don’t write for a newspaper or a magazine at this time.
June 17, 2016 at 5:16 pm
A minor correction. New England Female Medical College in Boston was the first medical school in the United States to admit women.