Who was Kadambini Ganguly? Google doodle honors first female doctor of India on 160th birthday

A staunch campaigner for women's rights, Kadambini Ganguly was shamed by local magazines for making it to a medical college attended only by men


                            Who was Kadambini Ganguly? Google doodle honors first female doctor of India on 160th birthday
Google doodle honours Kadambini Ganguly (Google screenshot)

This July 18's Google doodle was a unique one. The first two letters illustrated as a stethoscope followed by an institution, and a woman's face piqued the curiosity of many. But hovering the cursor over the doodle reveals the legendary legacy of the doctor Google honored with the illustration. July 18 marked the 160th birth anniversary of one of India's pioneer female doctors. Identified as Kadambini Ganguly (nee Bose), the medical professional paved the way for women's liberation at the time — breaking all patriarchal stereotypes from the era.

Born on July 18, 1861, Ganguly has been credited for meandering a successful medical practice in India, all for women, along with other legendary female doctors such as Mumbai's Anandibai Joshi. Ganguly was the first woman who made her way to the esteemed Calcutta Medical College in 1884 — an incredible feat at the time as the college was exclusively attended by men back in the 19th century. With both Ganguly and Joshi graduating in 1886, the debate surrounding who was India's first female doctor remains tied. Unfortunately, Joshi, who got her degree from the Women’s Medical College in Pennsylvania, met with an untimely death in 1887, at the age of 21.

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Who was Kadambini Ganguly?

Google honoring Ganguly with a doodle has been long overdue since the search engine has previously honored Rukhmabai Raut as one of the first female doctors of India. Ganguly obtained her graduate degree a solid eight years before Raut qualified as a physician, and in getting the degree, Ganguly also achieved the title of becoming the first woman in India to get a bachelor's degree.

When Ganguly graduated in the '80s, she was not only a pioneer for India but also became the first female doctor in South Asia to be trained in European medicine. She also became one of the six female delegates at the fifth session of the Indian National Congress in 1889. Six years later, Ganguly went to the UK for further training from Dublin, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. When she returned to India, Ganguly joined the then capital city Calcutta's (now, Kolkata) Lady Dufferin Hospital. That saw her kickstart her career as an acclaimed gynecologist — a practice she continued thoroughly until her death in 1923.

Kadambini Ganguly suffered ample criticism for breaking patriarchal stereotypes (Creative Commons)

Kadambini Ganguly's legacy

Ganguly was married to prominent Brahmo Samaj (a monotheistic sect of Hinduism) leader Dwarakanath Ganguly, whose first wife had passed away just a few years before he and Ganguly tied the knot on June 12, 1883. Their wedding happened just 11 days before Ganguly joined the Calcutta Medical College, and together they shared eight children making for a packed household that Ganguly deftly managed.

Historian David Kopf wrote in his book 'The Brahmo Samaj and the Shaping of the Modern Indian Mind' that Ganguly "was appropriately enough the most accomplished and liberated Brahmo woman of her time". Kopf had further described Ganguly's relationship with her husband as the "most unusual in being founded on mutual love, sensitivity and intelligence." He further noted that Ganguly's "ability to rise above circumstances and to realize her potential as a human being made her a prize attraction to Sadharan Brahmos dedicated ideologically to the liberation of Bengal's women." 

Criticism faced by Kadambini Ganguly

The acclaimed gynecologist was known for organizing the 1906 Women's Conference in Calcutta, after the partition of Bengal. She also successfully pressured her alma mater Calcutta Medical College to allow more women as students. The day Ganguly died, October 3, 1923, she had reportedly just conducted an operation. But one of the most talked-about and memorable moments from her life as Dwarkanath's wife was perhaps when she returned to India from Edinburgh and campaigned for women's rights that resulted in a local magazine calling her a "w***e" indirectly. Furious with the libel, Dwarkanath took the matter to court and subsequently emerged triumphant, as the magazine's editor Mahesh Pal was sentenced to jail for six months.

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