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Women Scientists in India (Lives, Struggles and Achievements)

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Item Code: NAZ522
Author: Anjana Chattopadhyay
Publisher: National Book Trust, India
Language: English
Edition: 2020
ISBN: 9788123781440
Pages: 492 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 540 gm
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Book Description

About the Book
Indian Women have had a strong presence in the science for well over a century. Yet much of their remarkable achi- ements and contributions to the development o fthe science in India hae been largley been ignored nor given due attention. The Stroy of Indian women scientists has been one of struggle. Overarching social structures, uneasy access to education, discrimination and oposition in home, study and workplace contribute mainly to the impediment of the progress of women in science. The road proved by some of the pioneering women scientists, has today, to a large extent cemented in the path for future generation, to fulfill their scientific ambitions.

This book, a major contribution to the study of history of science in india, is culled from various sources including newspapers, journal, travelogues and dissertations.

About the Author

Dr. Anjana Chattopadhyay (b. 1950), former Director General of Delhi Public Library System, was educated in University of Delhi and Annamalai University. She did her PhD from University of Bundelkhand. She served as the Deputy Librarian of the Jawaharlal Nehru University as well as Director, National Medical Library. During her tenure at various organisations, she had initiated several innovative programmes to make knowledge resources reachable to all. She started Electronic Resources in Medicine (ERMED), a network to provide free full-texts of articles from global journals to medical communities, including those, who are stationed at remote corners of the country. Dr. Anjana Chattopadhyay has written several articles and contributed many chapters in books. Besides, she has authored a series of books including Encyclopaedia of Indian Scientists (1995) and Dictionary of Indian Scientists (2002).


The Women Scientists in India: Lives, Struggles and Achievements has been designed to include collection of biographies of women scientists in India in a readily available single volume reference book. It provides retlection of scientific temper of great minds of women through their tactual biographical details and landmark achievements.

The author has tried to gather essence of their scientific spirit, new innovations and their impact upon society. Precisely it shows how science advanced in India over the years, especially during late 19th Century and early 20th Century, when the society started realizing the need to involve their women folks in the area of public health to improve the quality of life by providing safe child birth and prevent rampant neonatal mortality.

Rapid expansion in health care services for women has been recorded during this period across the world. It was the age of social transtormation after industrial revolution, which created various employment opportunities due to socio-economic development. It ssowly opened new avenues and acceptance for women participation in different fields of education and services.

Usually, women patients used to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed while being examined and treated by male doctors for women related diseases. Although female patients always expressed their gender preference, they had no other alternatives. Initially, women were involved as assistant or helper to their male family members in imparting medical service. They served as alchemical assistants, Operation theatre assistants, drug preparation experts, etc. They also served as midwives and untrained healers of women related diseases. ‘With the advancement of education and economy, the status of women started changing in the society. Women started realizing their potential to manage health care services. They started seeking recognition and economic benefit for their service. In order to prevent medical practice of quacks, the Royal College of Surgeons, UK became licensing body from 1800. The Society for Apothecary also started licensing Apothecary from 1815. Licensing from these bodies was granted only to qualified medical students. From there the system of having license for medical practice started. Women had no opportunity to avail formal medical education and license for medical practice, though the health care services best suited to the needs and aptitude of women. They started making demands for proper medical education and recognition. The "Women’s Health Movement’ started to establish their professional identity. There are sufficient exciting historical events available to show that there was a gender-based professional conflict when women tried to enter into the male dominated medical profession.

There is a fascinating story of the first woman doctor who practiced medicine in British Army, Dr. James Miranda Stuart Barry. She disguised herself as a man so that she could study medicine and get licensed by authorized licensing body to practice medicine. Born and brought up in Britain, she posed as a male in 1809 to get admission to Edinburgh University and received MD degree in 1812. This was long before women had acceptance to get admission to medical schools. After graduation, Dr. Barry joined British Army as a male doctor and earned reputation of an eminent surgeon. In 1857, Dr. Barry was appointed as Inspector General of Hospitals for Upper and Lower Canada. Dr. Barry practiced medicine for more than forty years and served in England, Canada, India and Cape Town, South Africa. In 1859, she had to return to England as she caught bronchitis, and refused to be examined by physicians. Barry's long kept secret of her gender identity was disclosed when she died of dysentery on 25th July 1865, and was laid out for burial (James Barry Biography, Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Accessed on 01.08.16).

In 1869, five women students Sophia Jex-Blake, Edith Pechey, Matilda Chaplin, Helen Evans and Isabel Thorne applied for admission to Medical School at the University of Edinburgh. They had to pay double fees for separate class for women. One of the students, Miss Edith Pechey earned brilliant result in chemistry and became entitled to avail Hope Scholarship. But the same could not be possible as male students, a section of teachers and press organized themselves against women’s admission to medical courses and tried to establish that womens admission to medical school was not legal. The strong conflict in academic world resulted into a well-known episode of ‘Edinburgh Riot of 1870' and the ’Riot of Surgeons Hall in 1871’. Finally, the Hope Scholarship was awarded to the second best male student on the plea that the scholarship was meant for regular medical students. These women then proceeded abroad to the Universities of Ireland, Bern, Dublin and Switzerland to earn recognized medical degrees. Subsequently, Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson helped to start the ‘London School of Medicine for Women’ in 1874, which provided fair chance to the aspiring women candidates to get admission to the medical school. Even after qualifying medical education with great difficulties, women could not get their dues in clinical practice in their homeland. They remained confined to subordinate positions in small health centres and dispensaries. It was very rare for women doctors to get regular prestigious position in government hospitals. Professional suppression of women doctors by their male colleagues and unfavourable professional competition forced women doctors to search for alternative suitable places, where they could establish their practice.

In India, with the practice of Purdah culture, women were not allowed to be treated by male doctors. Women preferred to die in pain rather than treated by male doctors. Mishandling of maternity cases by untrained dais and frequent death of women and children during child labour was a serious concern. The chaotic condition of health of women and children created a wave of sympathy for Indian women. The poor health conditions and high mortality rate needed immediate attention of authorities.

Book's Contents and Sample Pages

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