Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi was the 1st woman legislator of India as well as an eminent surgeon, educator, lawmaker and social reformer. She was born in a brahmin family living in Pudukkottai, a district in Tamil Nadu. Her father was S. Narayanswami, who was the principal at the Maharaja College.
After passing her matriculation exam, she applied for an undergraduate course in Maharaja College, Pudukkottai. As soon as she took admission into the Department of Surgery, she became the first Indian girl student of Madras Medical College. In 1912, she went on to become the first women doctor of India. Later, she also became the first woman to serve as the woman house surgeon in the Government Maternity Hospital of Madras. She was married to Dr. D.T. Sandara Reddi in 1914.
Later the Indian Women’s Association (WTA) demanded entry to the Madras Legislative council, therefore she decided to leave her medical practice. She was elected unanimously as the Deputy President of the Madras Legislative council. In 1930, three young devadasi girls knocked on Reddi’s door and as a result, she established the “Avvai Home” to shelter and educate girls like them, passed a resolution to establish a special hospital dedicated to women and children. She prompted the Council to pass the “Immoral Traffic Control Act” and the “Devadasi System Abolishment Bill” and also helped in raising the minimum age of girls for marriage. Later, she resigned from the Council to support the Salt Satyagraha.
She tried to improve the medical status of students of schools and colleges run by municipalities as well as other local bodies by recommending the systematic medical inspection of students. Apart from this, she also made health check-ups for girls in Government schools compulsory, canvassed for a woman wing in the police force, alotted grants to women’s institutes and worked for free education for girls up to Class VIII. Her efforts led to the opening of the hostel for Muslim girls as well as scholarships for the Harijan girls.
She was the lady who established the first Cancer Institute of South India in Chennai in 1954. The institute treats 80,000 patients every year and regarded as one of the most respected oncology centers in the world. In 1956, the Government of India honoured her with the prestigious Padma Bhushan Award. At the age of 81, she passed away peacefully.
Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi fought the battle against gender inequality and devoted her life to the betterment of public health. Acknowledging the above facts, the hospitals of the Tamil Nadu have also started celebrating her birth anniversary as ‘Hospital Day’ every year.
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