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By Katie McNab on

Happy Birthday Dossibai Dadabhoy!

A lifelong advocator of mother and baby health, today on her 141st birthday we celebrate the life and works of Dr. Dossibai Dadabhoy.

Born this day in 1881, Dossibai Rustomji Cowasji Patell (later known as Dossibai Jehangir Ratenshaw Dadabhoy) was an Indian obstetrician, gynaecologist, teacher and campaigner. Dr Dadabhoy was a lifelong advocator of mother and baby health. Having researched and concluded that two thirds of new-born deaths in India were preventable, Dadabhoy petitioned relentlessly for the reduction in child and mother morality. She opened maternal and birthing welfare centres across India to prevent these fatalities. These centres combined to become the Federation of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Societies of India (FOGSI). FOGSI continues today and its successes are emblematic of Dadabhoy’s legacy: it is one of the biggest membership-based organisations of specialised professionals in India and continues to successfully promote sexual health rights, preventative and therapeutic treatments, contributing to the reduction in birth mortalities through knowledge development and sharing.

Dadabhoy was born in Mumbai (formerly named Bombay). Her career progression was one of courage, boundary breaking and accomplishment. As a woman in the field of medicine, a field that in the early 1900s, and historically, has excluded her sex, and as a woman of colour working at the time of British Colonialism in India, she no doubt faced at least indifference but most likely outright discrimination.

Yet despite barriers of racism and sexism, Dadabhoy completed her preliminary medical studies, and assisted Sir Temulji Nariman in Mumbai, who no doubt was an inspirational figure to Dadabhoy, having opened the first maternity hospital in Mumbai. Following this, she then left for London.

There, after six years of study, she amassed an incredible number of Medical honours. She was one of the first women to receive MRCS (Eng) status in 1910; a recognised Member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. She received a MRCP, Membership of the Royal Colleges of Physicians of the United Kingdom in 1914, the more specialised, postgraduate medical diploma. Then finally received her MD (Medical Degree) from London School of Tropical Medicine at the University of London. She was only the second Indian woman to receive this degree. That Dadabhoy was amongst the first is perfectly captured in the photograph at the London School of Tropical Medicine below, where she and another woman are the only two women, in a crowd of men.

Dossibai Patell amidst a group at the London School of Tropical Medicine
Dossibai Patell amidst a group at the London School of Tropical Medicine. cc: Wikimedia.

When Dadabhoy returned to India in 1912, she continued to trailblaze. First with her birth centres and research into child and mother birthing mortality and then throughout her life. She became the first teacher of medicine in an Indian college – at Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College and the King Edward Memorial Hospital. And having served on the Bombay Branch of the Red Cross during WW2, she worked to establish the first blood transfusion service in India and then expanded this after the war. She was one of the first Indian doctors to use radium in her treatment of cancer. Her successes speak of a person who was relentless, compassionate and always striving to learn.

Happy Birthday Dossibai, thank you for your trailblazing legacy!