Mary Poonen Lukose was India’s first surgeon general. She was a gynaecologist and obstetrician. Lukose was also the first woman to graduate from Madras University. In a time when women, especially those who wanted to practice medicine, were not given due respect, she battled against all odds. Her story is an inspiration to women even today and she has assumed a sort of legendary status.

Despite the stigmas and stereotypes against women during those times, Mary Poonen Lukose managed to fight. She not only achieved success in her life but also lead to societal progress. Although she faced a lot of discrimination, she fought against them with a fearless, courageous soul.

In 1922, Mary Poonen Lukose was nominated to the legislative assembly of Travancore. This made her the first-ever woman legislator in the state. Just two years later, she became the acting surgeon general of Travancore.

Early Life And Education

Born in 1886, to a father who was a doctor, Mary Poonen Lukose had always been interested in medicine. After completing her schooling, Lukose was denied admission for science courses at Maharajas College since she was a woman. However, she did not give up. Instead, she decided to pursue a BA degree in History. She graduated to become the first woman graduate of Madras University.

After her undergraduate study, she wanted to study medicine. However, no medical colleges in India at that time accepted women. As a result, she was forced to move to London where she obtained her MBBS from London University. She also went on to obtain a specialisation in gynaecology and obstetrics from Dublin.

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On hearing the news of her father’s death, Mary Poonen Lukose returned to India. She did so against the advice of friends, family and well-wishers who knew that life in India would not be easy. However, what drove Mary was her desire to help Indians in need, who did not have the luxuries of modern medicine that she did in London. In the book Trailblazer which talks about her life, she says, “I went to England like a princess and came back like an orphan.”

Career In India

When she returned to India in 1916, she took up the post of an obstetrician at the Women and Children Hospital, Thycaud in Thiruvananthapuram. She also assumed the role of the superintendent of the hospital. A year later, she married K.K.Lukose, a lawyer. At the Thycaud hospital, she initiated a training programme for midwives. Mary’s job at the hospital was not easy. She not only had to face the troubles brought about by lack of proper facilities and equipment but also societal mind-sets that stopped women from coming to hospitals.

In 1922, Mary Poonen Lukose was nominated to the legislative assembly of Travancore. This made her the first-ever woman legislator in the state. Just two years later, she became the acting surgeon general of Travancore.

In 1922, Lukose was nominated to the legislative assembly of Travancore. This made her the first-ever woman legislator in the state. Just two years later, she became the acting surgeon general of Travancore. By 1938, she was in charge of 32 government hospitals, 40 government dispensaries and 20 private institutions. She was the first woman surgeon general in the world.

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Other Achievements

Mary Poonen Lukose was active in public life, always ready to serve the nation and Indian women. She was the founder president of the Trivandrum chapter of the Young Women’s Christian Association as well as the Indian Medical Association. In 1975, the Government of India awarded her with a Padma Shri.

Picture Credit: Livemint

Prapti is an intern at SheThePeople.TV

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