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Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy: The Unsung Warrior of India

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Updated On: 18 Sep 2023

Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy: The Unsung Warrior of India

Meet the eminent lady medical practitioner, the first woman legislator of India, and the active member of the women’s council, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. She overcame various obstacles and became the pioneer in the creation of a path for women around the nation. She was the leading element and the ultimate driving force in the initiation of one of the top cancer institutes in India. 

She is the woman with so many firsts added to her name solely. She repeatedly broke the barriers of gender discrimination and paved the way for countless possibilities for the women around her and also for the upcoming generations. She extended her boundaries in multiple fields and left her impressions mainly in the fields of law, medicine, education, and many more.

Childhood and Early Life of Dr. Reddy

Hailing from a humble family of Madras presidency, Muthulakshmi was born on 30 July 1886. Her father was the principal of the Maharaja’s College Pudukottai, Narayanaswami Iyer. Her mother was Chandrammal, a devadasi. 

Muthulakshmi Reddy was the first and the only girl student in the Maharaja Boys School. This brought forth a co-education environment and she completed her high schooling in the same school. She passed her matriculation by studying privately and under the guidance of her father. Unphased by societal comments and great opposition, she even completed her college education at a men’s college in Padukottai.

In 1907, she got into Madras Medical University to pursue her dreams. She was the first and the only woman candidate in the said university. She graduated from the Department of Surgery with a degree in the year 1912. When she chose the Department of Surgery, the professors were shocked as girls were considered to be faint-hearted and can never withstand the sight of the blood. At the end of four years, the principal of the college was found running and shouting in the corridor halls with a piece of paper that stated that ‘A girl scored 100% in the surgery department.’ She was awarded gold medals for her academic excellence. 

Career and Married Life of Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy

Upon graduating in the year 1912, Muthulakshmi became the first woman House Surgeon in the Government of Maternity & Ophthalmic Hospital, which is located in Madras. After a while, she moved to London to pursue her higher education. But she had to give up her medical practice to take up the humble request from the ‘Women’s Indian Association.’ 

She got married to Dr. Surendra Reddy in the year 1914 as per the 1872 Native Marriage Act under the conditions that she should be treated as an equal and he would not stop her from pursuing her dreams.  

In 1927, She was appointed as the Vice-President post and hence became the First Woman to be a member of the Legislative Council. She worked towards the upliftment of women in the nation. Later she resigned from her position in the year 1930 as a sign of protest against the arrest of Mahatma Gandhi during the Salt March. She opened Avvai Home in Vepery in the mid of 1930s. She was the first to increase the age of marriage for girls and boys to 16 & 21 respectively, to the government of India. 

She traversed throughout the country as a part of her with Hartog Education to witness and scrutinize the progress in the field of women’s education. She was the only woman member of the whole committee. Muthulaksshmi was the one who started Cancer Relief Fund which has now transformed into All-India Institute for Research and Therapy. 

Her dream was to open a hospital for cancer patients around the nation. After witnessing her sister’s death because of cancer and the unavailability of a cancer hospital in India. This laid the foundation of Adyar Cancer Institute, located in Adyar in the year 1952. Two years after this, the institute was set in motion. Now, Adyar Institute has become the world’s famous institute for cancer patients and treats around 80,000 cancer patients per year. 

Role Models of Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy

Muthulakshmi Reddy was heavily influenced by two great leaders namely Mahatma Gandhi and Annie Besant. They were the ones who changed her viewpoint on life and their works & words inspired her to devote herself, her time & her energy to the upliftment of the women and children. 

Her works were focused and targeted on women’s contribution and women who were deprived of freedom and other fundamental rights. Women, back then, were not given privileges so, Dr. Reddy actively participated in breaking down the walls and bringing in new changes to the nation. 

She crossed paths with Sarojini Naidu when she was in college and thus this marked the beginning of her partaking in meetings related to women. This resulted in many women sharing their problems with Dr Muthulakshmi. 

Social Activist: Dr. Muthulakshmi

After Muthulakshmi got elected as the Vice-president of the legislative council, she worked hard to get the legislative and municipal rights for the women of the country. She even started a home for underprivileged and orphaned girls. This home is provided with free basic amenities and free boarding & lodging facilities for destitute girls. 

It is because of her resolution that the government opened a children’s section in the maternity hospital after she was determined to open a hospital for Women & Children. She even passed bills against the enslaving & trafficking of women for brothels. Not only that, but she builds a shelter for such women and girls. She even opened a special hostel for muslim girls and sponsored scholarships for Harijan girls. 

She was the editor of the journal called “Roshini” at AIWC (All India Women’s Conference). She continued to fight for her cause until her last breath and didn’t let any obstacle become a barrier in the way of her work. 

Her Book ‘My Experience as a Legislator

Written by Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy herself, this book contains the record of all her legislative activities and services done by her. 

The Kasturba Hospital is a monument to all of her works and services, especially the efforts she put into the initiation of the Women & Children Hospital. It was again due to her persistent efforts that the Anti-Polygamy Bill was passed in the year 1930. She became the first chairperson of the state social welfare board, at the age of 68. She was honoured with the first Active Honorary and Social Organiser due to her efforts in improving the Children’s Aid Society. 

Highlights and Awards Received by Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy

  • Muthulakshmi was the first woman to get admitted into a men’s college.
  • Mutulakshmi was the first woman surgeon and the only woman candidate in the Medical College.
  • She was the first woman in India to become the Legislator during the British Rule.
  • She was even the first Alderwoman of the Madras Corporation in the year 1937.
  • She was the first Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Board in the year 1954.
  • Muthulakshmi was the first woman Vice president of the Legislative Council. 
  • Adyar Cancer Institute: Started by Muthulakshmi Reddy to help cancer patients, to this day it serves as a non-profitable cancer research and treatment centre, in Tamil Nadu. Now this institute even operates as regional cancer and even a centre of excellence since 1974. This is the first medical school in India to hand out various oncology degrees to the students. 
  • Avvai Home: this shelter home and orphanage by Muthulakshmi provide free shelter to orphaned and destitute girls even today. This home provides shelter without considering their social status in the hopes of providing economic freedom and enfranchisement to the women. So that they can lead their lives with safety and dignity.
  • She was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1956 by the Government of India.
  • July 30th is celebrated as Hospital Day to honour Muthulakshmi on her birthday. 

Conclusion

Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy passed away at the age of 81. She serves as a pillar to all those determined women who want to achieve greater things in life and follow their path. Her efforts in the field of Women’s Empowerment speak of glory even today. Her story is an inspirational story for women around the world whose actions impacted history. 

Her passion & dedication and determined heart not only impacted the lives of women but also in the field of education, medicine, and many more. Her vision and values have inspired and changed many lives for good. 

Soundarya Kamat

Soundarya Kamat is an inquisitive individual with a deep passion for the formation of names and an expertise in freestyle writing. Her relentless curiosity drives her to research and explore the intricacies behind the origins and meanings of names, unraveling the stories they hold. Holding a certifi... Read More

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FAQs

Who is Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy?

Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy is the first Woman Legislator of India, a medical practitioner, and a social activist who fought for Women’s rights.

What is Muthulakshmi’s birthday celebrated as?

Dr. Muthulakshmi’s birthday is celebrated as Hospital Day which is on July 30.

When was Dr Reddy awarded with Padma Bhushan award?

Dr. Reddy was awarded the Padma Bhushan award in the year 1956.

What are the two major contributions of Dr. Muthulakshmi towards the welfare of women & children?

The two major contributions of Dr. Muthulakshmi towards the Welfare of Women & Children are the Avvai Home and Anti-Polygamy Act.

What is the name of the book written by Muthulakshmi?

‘My Experience as a Legislator’ is a book written by Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy.

From which Medical Department did Muthulakshmi graduated?

Dr. Muthulakshmi graduated from the Department of Surgery in the year 1912 from the Medical College of Madras.

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