Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Kadambini Bose Ganguly—India’s first female physician

Arpan K. Banerjee
Solihull, England

Kadambini Ganguly. Via Wikimedia.

The name Kadambini Ganguly is not as well remembered today as those of other female pioneering physicians around the world. In her time, Ganguly was a remarkable trailblazer and the first Indian female doctor to practice Western medicine in India. She was also one of the first women to be admitted for study at Calcutta Medical School in 1883, and alongside Chandramukhi Basu, was one of the first two women to graduate from Calcutta University with a BA degree. In the UK, the first woman to qualify as a doctor was Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, who qualified in 1865. It is interesting to note that Cambridge University did not grant full degrees to women until 1948.

Kadambini Bose (later Ganguly following marriage) was born on 18 July 1861 to an upper caste family. Her father was a headmaster who was an early champion of feminist causes and believed in education for women. At that time, daughters in educated households were not allowed an education. Ganguly attended the famous Bethune College for women in Calcutta. Bethune College was founded in 1849 by the British polymath John Bethune, a Cambridge graduate, lawyer, and member of the Supreme Council of India who championed education of women in India in the nineteenth century.

From Bethune College, Ganguly sat her entrance exams to Calcutta University, and then from 1883–1886 studied at the Calcutta Medical College with clinical postings at the Eden Hospital and the Medical College Hospital. After four years, she obtained her degree. It is interesting to note that she failed one of her exams (anatomy and material medica) by one mark (marked by a professor who was prejudiced against women being educated), and so did not get her MB degree. She nevertheless graduated with the less prestigious qualification of Graduate of Bengal Medical College (GBMC), and was still the first Indian woman to graduate in Western medicine.

That year, Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi from Bombay also qualified in medicine from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, US, but did not go on to practice, as she died at the age of twenty-two from tuberculosis.

Ganguly started work in Calcutta in 1888 and was subject to discrimination, prejudice, and verbal abuse. The culture at the time was not accustomed to women being qualified doctors.

In 1893, she visited Scotland and studied in Edinburgh. Within three months, she obtained a license to practice in the UK. She returned to Calcutta, received promotion in her hospital, and was allowed more responsibility than before.

Ganguly combined family life with her career and in this regard was considerably ahead of her time. She also found time to engage in politics, speaking to the Indian National Congress in 1890 and championing women’s rights.

Kadambini Gaguly married in June 1883. Her husband was a widowed journalist and an early feminist. She had eight children, including four from her husband’s first marriage. It is remarkable how she managed to study for her medical degree with such family responsibilities. Her stepdaughter married the Bengali writer and artist Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, grandfather to Satyajit Ray, the internationally famous and critically acclaimed twentieth-century film director from Bengal.

Kadambini Ganguly died on 3 Oct 1923 at the age of sixty-two. Her remarkable life and achievements serve as an inspiration for all of us.


  • Banerjee, Arpan K. “India’s Oldest Medical Schools.” Hektoen International Education, Summer 2022. https://hekint.org/2022/08/31/indias-oldest-medical-schools/

DR. ARPAN K. BANERJEE qualified in medicine at St Thomas’s Hospital Medical School. London. He was a consultant radiologist in Birmingham 1995–2019. He was President of the radiology section of the RSM 2005–2007 and on the scientific committee of the Royal College of Radiologists 2012–2016. He was Chairman of the British Society for the History of Radiology 2012–2017. He is Chairman of ISHRAD. He is author/co-author of papers on a variety of clinical, radiological, and medical historical topics and seven books, including Classic Papers in Modern Diagnostic Radiology (2005) and The History of Radiology (OUP 2013).

Spring 2024



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