When patriarchy engulfed the society not only in matters of collective decisions but also in education, Kadambini Ganguly from Bhagalpur district of Bihar stepped in to become the first female practitioner of western medicine not just in India, but in the whole of South Asia. The time was 18th century — an era when men enjoyed privileges that women couldn’t even imagine. It was an era when Calcutta Medical College (CMC) didn’t admit women to pursue a medical degree. At this time, Kadambini became the first woman to get admission to the CMC in 1884. Read on to know more!

Kadambini was a contemporary of Anandibai Joshi, who is known as the first female physician of India. However, Anandibai succumbed to Tuberculosis in 1887, even before she could start her career. Therefore, it can be said with utmost surety that Kadambini was the first female to practise western medicines in India.

Superwoman Ganguly- She Who Broke The Glass Ceiling

At a time when women were only meant for household chores, Kadambini Ganguly managed to bag a monthly salary of Rs 300 which is equivalent to 4,50,000 today. She succeeded in grabbing this decent salary when she was appointed at the Lady Dufferin Women’s Hospital, Calcutta.

After her primary education, she attended India’s first college for women namely, Banga Mahila Vidyalaya, which later merged with Bethune College. However, as she became eligible for the University Entrance Test post this, she came to know that she wasn’t eligible for the course as the University followed Oxford and Cambridge’s practice of not admitting female students. Not only she but a Christian Bengali student from Dehra Dun named Chandramukhi Basu also applied for the same entrance examination. Later, after the efforts of Kadambini’s father, the University agreed to grant them permission for the exam. Unfortunately, in 1878, Kadambini missed the qualifying marks by a single mark while Chandramukhi was declared by the Junior Board of Examiners to have attained the entrance standard in the examination of 1877.

After passing her First Arts (FA) Examination in 1880, she was desirous of seeking admission in the Medical College, but female students weren’t allowed there too.  Eventually, she took admission at Bethune College along with Chandramukhi. When these wonder women received their degrees in 1883, they were the first women to do so in the entire British Empire.

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Kadambini’s father, Brajakishore Bose was a staunch supporter of women’s rights. He not only fought for Kadambini’s entrance examination in the Calcutta University but also put efforts for the admission of Kadambini at Calcutta Medical College (CMC) and finally succeeded.

Daughter Of A Man Who Believed In Empowering Women

Kadambini’s father, Brajakishore Bose was a staunch supporter of women’s rights. He not only fought for Kadambini’s entrance examination at the Calcutta University but also put efforts for her admission at Calcutta Medical College (CMC) and finally succeeded. It was only after his efforts that the CMC, which didn’t admit women till 1882 finally agreed for Kadambini’s admission in 1884. She also became the first woman to be admitted to Calcutta Medical College. Interestingly, the government also offered a scholarship of Rs 20 per month in the following year with retrospective effect.

Independent Women Have Always Scared Regressive Men, So Did Kadambini

Kadambini’s continuous progress in the field of education was intolerable to a section of Brahmos as well as Hindus. Also, as she married Dwarkanath Ganguly, a widower, people criticised her for this action.  Dwarkanath was her mentor at the Bethune School and 17 years senior to her. He too was a staunch Brahmo and an ardent supporter of women’s emancipation movement. Even the professors at CMC were not happy with her studying there. However, she still continued her studies despite these adversities.

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It is also said that a Professor at CMC who was against female education intentionally failed her in the paper – Materia Medica and Comparative Anatomy. This prevented her from receiving the certificate of the first MB examination held in 1888. In fact, when she joined the Lady Dufferin Hospital, she realised that she was being looked down upon by the British Lady Doctors, as she didn’t have the MB Degree.

Right since the inception of the Indian National Congress in 1885, Kadambini’s husband Dwarakanath was agitating for women’s participation in the annual sessions in the INC. He was successful in his attempts when Kadambini along with five other ladies were allowed to attend the Bombay session of INC in 1889.

Combining Professionalism With Social And Political Responsibilities

Right since the inception of the Indian National Congress in 1885, Kadambini’s husband Dwarakanath was agitating for women’s participation in the annual sessions in the INC. He was successful in his attempts when Kadambini along with five other ladies were allowed to attend the Bombay session of INC in 1889. She not only delivered a lecture in English in the Calcutta session of INC in 1890 but also organized for a women’s conference in Calcutta in 1906 on the aftermath of partition of West Bengal.

Kadambini was a contemporary of Anandibai Joshi, who is known as the first female physician of India. However, Anandibai succumbed to Tuberculosis in 1887, even before she could start her career. Therefore, it can be said with utmost surety that Kadambini Ganguly was the first woman to practice western medicine in India. She drew her last breath on October 3, 1923.

Picture Credit: Inext Live

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