The Female Medical Pioneers of 1885

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Danny Dutch Photography published a report with an image of the first women doctors from Syria, India, and Japan.

These women were medical pioneers and the photo is from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP) in 1885. These are medical students. They are wearing the “traditional clothes from their home countries.”

The original image can be found in the Drexel University archives. The archivist Matt Herbison found out more about the women medical pioneers. Each graduated and was the first for each of the countries. The Indian woman, Anandibai Joshi, was a high-caste Brahmin woman and married at age 9 to a man aged 29.

The 29-year-old husband was a progressive given the era. He encouraged the Indian woman’s education, or his wife’s – Joshi’s – education. Joshi was determined to become a doctor based on the death of a 10-day old baby. Joshi was only 14 at the time of having the baby.

There were obstacles to get to America including “caste and tradition, and a lack of money and connections.” Some think that she might be the first Hindu to set foot on American soil.

Unfortunately, the Indian woman, Joshi contracted, tuberculosis and died at age 21. She is considered a hero among Indian feminists as well.

The WMCP was attractive to foreign students that wanted to study medicine who could not within their own national territory.

The Japanese, Keiko Okami, went against the traditional expectations of women in the society and traveled independently to the US. Okami found out how to pay for both board and tuition while in the US.

For the era, America was seen as an exceptional 19th-century country by the author of the article. Okami went back to Tokyo and was appointed head of gynecology at one of the main hospitals in Japan.

However, the Emperor refused to receive her during a visit to the hospital. She resigned a few years later. She went to a private practice following this. She died at the age of 81.

Sabat Islambouli, from Syria, went back to Damascus to complete her degree. In 1919, she was on the alumnae list for the college, however, the college had lost touch with her. It is unknown as to what happened to Islambouli.

The WMCP was able to produce this image of the first Indian, Japanese, and Syrian women medical pioneers.

“Besides the international students, it also produced the nation’s first Native American woman doctor, Susan LeFlesche, while African-Americans were often students as well. Some of whom, like Eliza Grier, were former slaves.”


About Author


Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen works for science and human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights. He considers the modern scientific and technological world the foundation for the provision of the basics of human life throughout the world and advancement of human rights as the universal movement among peoples everywhere.

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