Muthulakshmi Reddy was an Indian medical practitioner, a women’s activist, and a social reformer. Born on 30th July 1886, Reddy had many first to her name:
She was the first female student to be admitted into a men’s college. Reddy was the first woman House Surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital. She was the first woman Legislator in British India, the first Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board, and the first woman Deputy President of the Legislative Council. She is known to have helped to rise the minimum age for marriage for girls. She pushed the Council to pass the crucial Immoral Traffic Control Act.
Muthulakshmi’s Avvai Home became a safe haven for young devadasi girls and countless others like them. She was also the first Alderwoman of the Madras Corporation Avvai Home.
Reddy was born in the princely state of Pudukkottai of Tamil Nadu. Her father was S. Narayanaswami Iyer, the Principal of Maharaja’s College. He broke the tradition and sent Muthulakshmi to school. Her mother was Chandrammal, a Devadasi. Muthulakshmi’s closeness to the maternal side of her family made her very perceptive of the Devadasi community and their issues.
She was against the subordination of women to men and the idea that only boys needed education. Despite the girls at her time faced various constraints in India, Reddy completed her higher education and was admitted into the medical profession. She joined the Madras Medical College in 1907 and graduated in 1912, becoming the first female doctors in India. She achieved a brilliant academic record in her college, along with receiving several gold medals and prizes. Then she became House Surgeon in the Government Hospital for Women and Children in Chennai. She soon came under the influence of Annie Besant and then of Mahatma Gandhi, both of them persuaded her to devote herself to uplifting women and children.
She married to Sundara Reddy in 1914 at the age of 28 that is also with the proviso that he promised to “always respect me as an equal and never cross my wishes”. Muthulakshmi always aspired to be different from the common lot since the young age. And she fulfilled her aspirations.
She passed away on 22nd July 1968 but Muthulakshmi’s legacy lives on.