Kadambini Ganguly: Trailblazing India’s Path to Women’s Education and Empowerment

OV Digital Desk

Image Courtesy: Google Doodle

Kadambini Ganguly (18 July 1861 – 3 October 1923) was one of the first Indian female doctors who practiced with a degree in modern medicine, alongside other pioneering women such as Anandibai Joshi. Ms Ganguly was the first woman to gain admission to Calcutta Medical College in 1884, subsequently trained in Scotland, and established a successful medical practice in India. She was born on 18 July 1861 in Bhagalpur, Bengal Presidency, British India.

Life and Career

Kadambini Basu was born on July 18, 1861, in Bhagalpur, Bihar, India. She grew up in an educated and progressive family that supported her aspirations for higher education. At the age of nine, she was married to Dwarkanath Ganguly, who later became a notable social reformer.

Her father, a co-founder of India’s first women’s rights organization, enrolled Ganguly in school during an era when education was uncommon for Indian women. She took the reins on the opportunity, and in 1883, Kadambini Ganguly and her peer Chandramukhi BasuIn became the first women to graduate college in Indian history.

Soon after graduating, Ganguly married professor and activist Dwarkanath Ganguly, who encouraged her to pursue a degree in medicine. She persisted—despite numerous initial rejections—until she was eventually admitted to the Calcutta Medical College. She graduated in 1886, making history once again as the first woman to become an Indian-educated doctor.  Ganguly had no intention of slowing her groundbreaking momentum. After working and studying in the United Kingdom, she earned three additional doctoral certifications with a specialization in gynecology and returned to India in the 1890s to open her own private practice.

Ganguly sought to uplift other women in India through both medical service and activism in India’s women’s rights movement. Among many other campaigns, Ganguly joined six others to form the first all-women delegation of the 1889 Indian National Congress. Kadambini Ganguly faced numerous challenges in her pursuit of medical education due to prevailing societal norms and gender discrimination. However, with the support of her husband and family, she enrolled in Calcutta Medical College in 1882, becoming one of the first female students in the institution.

In 1886, Kadambini Ganguly became the first woman to graduate with a medical degree in British India. Her accomplishment was groundbreaking and inspired other women to pursue careers in medicine and higher education. She faced criticism and resistance from conservative sections of society, but she persisted in her career and contributed to the field of medicine. Ganguly began practicing medicine and played a crucial role in providing healthcare to women, particularly in addressing their specific medical needs. She worked tirelessly to raise awareness about women’s health issues and advocated for better healthcare facilities for women in India.

Kadambini Ganguly passed away on October 3, 1923, in Kolkata, India.

Award and Legacy

Her contributions to women’s rights, healthcare, and the field of medicine left a lasting impact on Indian society. The 2020 “Prothoma Kadambini” biographical television series based on Ganguly’s life reinvigorated her legacy by telling her inspirational story to a new generation.

Ganguly’s legacy as a pioneering female physician and advocate for women’s rights is widely acknowledged. Her determination and achievements paved the way for future generations of women in India to pursue education and careers in medicine and other fields traditionally dominated by men. She became an inspiration for countless women and a symbol of empowerment.

Her work has been posthumously recognized and celebrated. In 2018, she was honored with the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards, for her significant contributions to society.

Additionally, Kadambini Ganguly’s name and achievements are commemorated through various institutions and initiatives dedicated to promoting women’s education and healthcare. Her life story continues to inspire individuals to challenge societal norms, work towards gender equality, and pursue their dreams. Kadambini Ganguly’s pioneering spirit, resilience, and dedication to empowering women in the medical field have left an indelible mark on the history of India and serve as a reminder of the potential for positive change that individuals can bring about.

On 18 July 2021, Google celebrated Kadambini Ganguly’s 160th birthday with a doodle.