Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91

Vol. XXIX No. 16, December 1-15, 2019

Women doctors and women’s hospitals in Madras

by Ramya Raman and Anantanarayanan Raman

– with notes on the related influencing developments in India in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.

At least 30 years before qualified women doctors from Britain, America and Australia came to India to assist in the health care of women, Mary Ann Dacomb Scharlieb living in Madras (now Chennai) graduated with an LMS (Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery) diploma from the Madras Medical College in 1875. She then proceeded to London to earn an MBBS degree from the newly started Medical School for Women. She returned to Madras after completing advanced training in operative midwifery at the Allgemeines Krankenhaus, Vienna, Austria in 1884. The Government of Madras established a women’s hospital in Moore’s Garden – the Royal Victoria Hospital for Caste and Gosha Women (RVH) – which she superintended from 1884 to 1887; the hospital was shifted to its current location in Triplicane, Chennai in 1890. Doctors in Madras, such as Ida Sophia Scudder and Muthulakshmi Reddy, played a major role in taking women’s health care to new heights.

While chronicling the lives and works of pioneer women doctors of Madras, this note also enunciates details of the establishment of premier women’s hospitals in Madras: (1) The Maternity Hospital (MH) in Egmore and (2) The RVH in Triplicane, in the backdrop of an overall context of women’s health management in the rest of India, triggered by the Dufferin Association and its sprigs, the Association of Medical Women in India and Women’s Medical Service for India.

The MH, at least four decades older than the RVH, performed remarkably on many a score: for example, in starting of a midwife training school and the Diploma in Gynaecology and Obstetrics programme, the latter setting the trend for the rest of India. The MH pioneered in developing a facility to treat infants and children as well in 1949, thanks to the efforts of pediatrician S.T. Ãchar, thus earning a reputation as the ‘Egmore model’ in medical circles.
Cultural reasons prevented Hindu and Muslim women of 19th-Century India to seek medical support from male doc-tors, either during childbirth or when they required attention on other personal health and hygiene matters. A few qualified overseas missionary women doctors came to India in the early decades of the 20th Century, with an intent of assisting Indian women and popularizing Christianity. Many missionary women doctors came from Australia. For instance, Laura Fowler-Hope from Adelaide served as a doctor attached to the Australian Baptist Mission in Bengal, Calcutta, between 1893 and 1934. Effie Stillwell from Melbourne, attached to the Zenana Bible and Medical Mission of Calcutta, worked at the Duchess of Teck Hospital in Patna between 1905 and 1937. Flora Innes from Brisbane and a medical graduate from Edinburgh, UK attached to the Presbyterian Women’s Missionary Association of New South Wales, began medical work at the Presbyterian Mission at Sholinghur (Solingapuram), Tamil Nadu in 1911. She joined the Christian Medical College & Hospital (CMC&H), Vellore in 1918. Ethel Ambrose, also from Adelaide, spent nearly three decades (1905–1934) at Poona and established a women’s hospital at Pandaripur, Maharashtra in 1909–1910. Mary Glowrey, a nun of the Society of Jesus–Mary–Joseph, and a trained medical doctor holding specialist diplomas in obstetrics, gynaecology and ophthalmology, came from Birregurra, Victoria, Australia to India as a medical missionary in 1920. She was the first nun–doctor authorised by the Pope (Pius XI) as a Catholic medical missionary. For 37 years, Glowrey served the people of Guntur, Andhra Pradesh as a doctor at St. Joseph’s Hospital. She also trained Indian women as nurses, midwives and compounders. Many men and women doctors came from America and Europe to serve women in other parts of India in the later decades of the 19th Century. For example, James Humphrey of the American Methodist Church and Clara Swain (1834–1910) representing the Methodist Episcopalian Church served in Bareilly at slightly different times in the 19th Century.

The earliest overseas-qualified Indian woman doctor was Anandibai Gopal Rao Joshi (1865–1887) of the erstwhile Bombay Presidency. She went to the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP, presently the Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, USA)

(c) William Riviere; Supplied by The Public Catalogue FoundationMary Ann Scharlieb. Oil canvas by Hugh Goldwin Revière.

to study medicine during 1883–1886. On her return to India, with an MD from WMCP, she joined as a women’s physician at the Albert Edward Hospital, Kolhapur, Maharashtra. Joshi succumbed to pulmonary tuberculosis aged 22 years. Rakhmabai (also spelt as Rukhmabai, 1864–1955) from Bombay (now Mumbai), fought the cultural shackles of India bravely. She graduated with an MD from the London Medical School for Women (LMSW) in 1894 and trained at the Royal Free Hospital, London. She was the Principal Medical Officer at Surat Wom-en’s Hospital, Gujarat, for many decades until her death at 90 years. Rakhmabai blazed new social trails for Indian women in general and women doctors in particular.

References, in passing, mention about one Annie Jaganadhan, who qualified in medicine in Madras in 1883, possibly with a Licentiate in Medicine & Surgery (LMS) from the Madras Medical College (MMC). She went to Edinburgh in 1888 and studied further at the Edinburgh School of Medicine for Women (ESMW). In 1892, she returned to India and joined as a house surgeon at Cama Hospital (now Cama & Albless Hospital), Bombay. She succumbed to pulmonary tuberculosis at an early age – similar to Anandibai – in 1894. Nothing further is known about Annie Jaganadhan. Another Annie (Annie Walke Sharp, an English woman?) studied at the Grant Medical College, Bombay, and qualified in medicine from the University of Bombay in 1889. Kadambini Ganguli (1861–1923) and Haimabati Sen (1866–1933) of Calcutta sparkle for having contributed substantially to the health management of women of Bengal.

Before we discuss about missionary medical help and the other influencing factors, a reference to the pioneer medical practitioner of Madras, Mary Scharlieb, would be in order.

Mary Scharlieb, Royal Victoria Hospital for Women

In the later decades of the 19th Century, entry for women into medical schools in Madras and Calcutta was somewhat easier than in Britain. An early woman entrant into formal Western science-based medical education in India was Mary Ann Dacomb Scharlieb née Bird (1845–1930). Scharlieb came to Madras from Britain as an 18-yr-old, accompanying her barrister husband William Mason Scharlieb (1829–1891). She visited women patients at the Madras General Hospital (MGH) during her spare time, when the struggles and pains of the women she saw there touched her heart. This experience pushed her to seek admission into MMC to qualify as a doctor in 1875, when the college opened its gates to women, thanks to Surgeon-General Edward Green Balfour (1813–1889). Women were admitted into the 3-yr LMS programme, which included a brief training in midwifery. A 4½-yr-long MBCM (Bachelor of Medicine, Master of Chirurgery, similar to a modern-day MBBS) programme existed in MMC, but was open only to men. After gaining an LMS, Scharlieb went to London in 1881 and acquired MBBS and Honours titles of the University of London, studying at LSMW (established 1874). Using the scholarship monies she had won during her study time at LSMW, Scharlieb trained in operative midwifery (now obstetrics) for four months with Gustav August Braun (1821– 1911) at the Frauenklinik (Women’s Clinic) of the Allgemeines Krankenhaus der Stadt Wien (General Hospital of Vienna), Austria. The Government of Madras, at the personal interest of Anna Julia Webster, wife of Mountstuart Elphinstone Grant-Duff, Governor of Madras, established an exclusive hospital for women, under the superintendence of Scharlieb, which came up in a spacious, multi-room garden house in Moore’s Garden in 1884. This hospital was named the Royal Victoria Hospital for Caste and Gosha Women (RVH). According to Scharlieb:

‘In India, at any rate in those long gone-by days, little was to be accomplished without the help of the Government, or at any rate without the initiative and sympathetic interest of the powers that be. I was extremely anxious that there should be a hospital dedicated entirely to the service of Caste Hindus and Gosha Mahommedans. Naturally there was a certain amount of difficulty and delay, but finally Lady Grant Duff, the Governor’s wife, and Surgeon-General Furnell called a meeting of the chief members of the Indian community. There was the usual amount of speech-making setting forth the merits of the scheme. And finally a series of resolutions was submitted to the meeting, to the effect that it approved of the institution of a hospital exclusively for the use of Caste and Gosha ladies; that the hospital should be under my care; and that I should have such assistance as I considered necessary. Details were settled later, and without too much loss of time a very nice house in a large garden was found and dedicated to the service of the hospital.’

‘I ought to state that soon after the hospital was opened I wrote to Lady Biddulph, and through her obtained the Queen’s gracious consent to the hospital being called the Royal Victoria Hospital for Caste and Gosha women.’
RVH serviced the women of Madras coming from varied social backgrounds. At one stage Mary Pailthorpe, an MBBS degree holder from the Newnham College, University of Cambridge, UK, who had trained at the Royal Free Hospital, Camden, England, joined Scharlieb at RVH as Resident Medical Officer in 1885. She was selected in Britain to supervise the Mission Hospital in Banares (Varanasi), but was assigned to work at RVH. For personal reasons, William and Scharlieb returned to England permanently in 1887. Soon after Mary Scharlieb qualified for an MD and MS through LMSW, and later became the personal physician to the Queen.

While in Madras, Scharlieb had a busy practice. She argued for a feminine line of communication: flowing from a woman medical professional to the mother and through her to her children. She lectured on midwifery, gynaecology, and children’s illnesses at MMC until her return to London. Scharlieb’s books, written after her return to England, reinforced the importance of personal hygiene for girls and reproductive health in women.

The RVH established under the supe-rintendence of Scharlieb in Moore’s Garden underwent major changes in the following years. Anna Webster, along with K. Bashyam Iyengar, R. Raghunatha Rao, Ananda Gajapati Raju (Raja of Vizianagaram), S. Muthuswamy Iyer, G. K. Yachendra (Raja of Venkatagiri) and Savalai Ramaswamy Mudaliar played a major role in developing the RVH. The Government of Madras donated a block of land and offered Rs 10,000 towards the establishment of this hospital. It relocated to Triplicane (a suburb of Madras along the coast) in 1890. The main building of this new precinct was constructed from a generous grant by Yachendra. The Government of Madras took over the management of this hospital in April 1921. It was renamed as Kasturba Gandhi Hospital for Women in 1948. The hospital gained reputation through the sustained efforts of many women medical practitioners, notably Mary Beadon, Hilda Mary Lazarus and E. Madhuram in later years. It presently functions under the banner ‘Institute for Social Obstetrics and Kasturba Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children’.

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