ON THIS DAY – 30 JULY India’s First Woman Legislator, Muthulakshmi Reddi, was born

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Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi was a surgeon, educator, lawmaker and social reformer. The Government of Tamil Nadu announced that government hospitals in the State will celebrate her birth anniversary as ‘Hospital Day’ every year.

Born in 1886 in Pudukkottai, Tamil Nadu, Dr Reddi opposed her parents’ plan for an early arranged marriage, convincing them that she deserved an education. Dr. Reddi was the first Indian girl student in the Department of Surgery at Madras Medical College. She was one of the first women doctors in India and the first woman house surgeon in the Government Maternity Hospital, Madras.

Constantly breaking down barriers throughout her life, Dr Reddi devoted her life to public health and fought the battle against gender inequality. She co-founded the Women’s Indian Association in 1918, and as the first woman member (and vice president) of the Madras Legislative Council — making her the first woman legislator in India — she helped raise the minimum age for marriage for girls and pushed the Council to pass the Immoral Traffic Control Act, and the Devadasi system abolishment Bill.

In 1914, she married a doctor named Sundara Reddi. Working for the upliftment of women and battling gender inequality, she supported Mahatma Gandhi’s efforts for India’s independence. She resigned from the Council to support the Salt Satyagraha.

In the year 1926, she attended the Paris International Congress of Women as a delegate. In the coming years, she gave up her practice in response to a request from the Women’s Indian Association (WTA) to enter the Madras Legislative Council.

She was the Chairman of the All-Asian Conference of Women till 1935. She was also the fifth All-India Women’s Conference Session, which was held in Lahore in 1930.

She led major improvements and additions to the Children’s Aid Society for which she was honoured with the first active Honorary Secretary and Organiser. Muthulakshmi’s life came under a great influence of Mahatma Gandhi and Dr Annie Besant who changed her viewpoint on life. Muthulakshmi was the first woman Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board in 1954

After losing her sister to cancer, she launched the Adyar Cancer Institute in Chennai in 1954. One of the most respected oncology centers in the world, it treats over 80,000 patients every year.

She was inspired by the emerging advances in cancer treatment in the West and in 1925 spent a year at Royal Marsden Hospital, in London, to specialise in the subject. She got the Women’s Indian Association involved in her mission.

 In recognition of her service to her country, Dr Reddi was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the Government of India in 1956. She passed away in 1968 at the age of 81.