5 Indian Women Who Made A Mark In The Field Of Science Pre-Independence

Posted: September 25, 2015

We talk about 5 Indian women during Pre-Independence, who made a mark. They thrived in a completely male-dominated field.

India has seen its women being viewed in very stark contrast because of reasons which played a very significant role from time immemorial. Indian women started making their presence felt way before India’s struggle for independence. Right from the time when India was divided into various princely states we have witnessed the rise of very powerful women whose heroic acts have been stuff of legends. Cult figures like Rani Laxmi Bai, Noor Jehan and Maharani Tara Bai are still revered for their bravery. While on one hand everyone cheered these warrior queens, they subjected the ordinary women with an adverse treatment. The life of a common woman was a far cry from all the great queens who were allowed to acquire a lot of skills early on.

This disparity continued for years to come and the upliftment of women was crippled by a lot of ills which gained even more prominence in years to come. Sati pratha, female infanticide and social stigma attached to the girls’ right to pursue education lead to gender inequality. Common women were treated as second-class citizens while some influential families didn’t pose a threat to the women’s growth. Such women went on to register their name in history becoming a role model for many others.




A lot of us are already aware of the significant role that women played in India’s struggle for independence and the extraordinary women who served the society during our freedom struggle.

A lot of us are already aware of the significant role that women played in India’s struggle for independence and the extraordinary women who served the society during our freedom struggle. Many young women especially during that time abandoned the four walls of their homes and came to support the nation in various capacities. Some of them even became soldiers by joining Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s Azad Hind Fauj.

Those long and arduous years of freedom ignited the hearts and minds of many Indians. A lot of families as well decided to do away with the old ways as India needed more support in every field. Be it social service, field of education, active campaigning and science. India has been home to some great female scientists going all the way back to the 19th century. These great scientists were warriors in their own right as they made a name for themselves by beating all odds and must be celebrated.

Following are some the female scientists from pre-independence era whose contribution to the field of science is part of our rich legacy:

Dr. Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi (1865 – 1887)

Born in Kalyan in an orthodox Marathi Brahmin family, she was the first Indian female physician to be trained in western medicine and the first female of Indian origin to study and graduate with a degree in medicine in the United States.

Her husband Gopalrao Joshi, a progressive thinker ignited in her the desire to study and encouraged her to study abroad to set an example for other Indian women. He made all the necessary arrangements by writing to various missionaries to ensure her seat in a medical college.

When she returned to India receiving a hero’s welcome, she also got appointed by the princely state of Kolhapur as the physician-in-charge of the female ward of Albert Edward Hospital.

Unfortunately she died the very next year, at the young age of 21, after scaling new heights and setting an ultimate example for women all over the world. In her short life she rose to the level of a hero making India proud. Her husband played a very important role in helping her realize and then making her pursue her passion.

Dr. Kadambini Ganguly (1861 – 1923)

The daughter of Brahmo reformer Braja Kishore Basu, Dr. Ganguly was born in Bihar of British India. She excelled in education and was the first female graduates not just in British India but the entire British Empire, which had its colonies all over the world. She was also the first South Asian female physician, trained in western medicine.

She married a reformer, like her father who worked for women’s emancipation. Post-marriage she actively worked for women’s rights and took part in other social movements to improve work conditions of female coal miners.

She was also one of the delegates to the fifth session of Indian National Congress and organized Women’s conference in India. She contributed to Satyagraha and collected fund raisers to assist the workers. Throughout her life she worked for the society, working first as a role model, then a physician and later as a reformer and freedom fighter.

Dr. Janaki Ammal (1897- 1984)

Born in a Thiyya family of Tellichary, Kerala, Janaki Ammal was an Indian botanist who conducted scientific research in cytogenetics and phytogeography. Her most notable work has been on sugarcane and eggplant. She has also collected several valuable plants of medicinal and economical value from the rain forests of Kerala.

Her father encouraged her and all her siblings to pursue higher studies and during her college years Ms. Ammal acquired a passion of cytogenetics. After teaching at a college in Chennai (erstwhile Madras), with a sojourn as a Barbour scholar, she went on to obtain her Master’s degree from the University of Michigan. She worked as a cytologist in London and Wisley, later returning to India upon the invitation of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1951 to reorganise the botanical survey of India. She made great advancements in her field by making several inter-generic hybrids. She devoted herself to the service of Indian government in various capacities heading various research facilities till the very end of her life.

The University of Michigan conferred an honorary LL.D. on her in 1956 and later the Government of India conferred the prestigious Padma Shri in 1977. Her research work has had such an impact that E.K. Janaki Ammal Award was instituted in 1999 to promote significant work in taxanomy. Her long and illustrious career is the stuff of legends and she scaled new heights from the very beginning.

Professor Anna Mani (1918 – 2001)

Professor Mani was a physicist and meteorologist. She played the role of one of the pioneers in the field of science. She was one of early India’s feminist and got deeply influenced by Gandhian politics. Gandhi had visited her hometown when she was a little girl. That had an impact on her and she started promoting self-reliance from then on and also started wearing only Khadi.

Born in 1918 to a prosperous family in the princely state of Travancore, she always had a thrust for higher education. After graduating from college, she worked under Prof. C.V. Raman researching optical properties of ruby and diamond. Later on, she studied meteorological instruments at Imperial College, London. Post her return to India she joined the meteorological department in Pune. She contributed to the study of radiation, ozone and atmospheric electricity, both on the surface and in the upper air using special sounding techniques.  She retired as the deputy director-general of the Indian Meteorological department in 1976.

Rajeshwari Chatterjee (1922 – 2010)

Professor Chatterjee is the first woman scientist to pioneer in the field of Microwave engineering and Antennae Engineering in India. She was also the first woman engineer of India. Post-graduation she completed her Master’s degree from the department of electrical

engineering, University of Michigan. She later returned to Michigan to complete her Ph.D.

Upon her return she got selected as the first woman faculty in the Indian Institute of Science. She subsequently became a Professor and also held the position of Chairman in the Department of Electrical Communication Engineering. Born in Karnataka; she starting receiving many awards early on because of her outstanding performance as a student.

Besides science and engineering, Prof. Chatterjee had interest in history and on many issues concerning society. After retiring from IISc, she devoted herself for the upliftment of women and addressed issues of caste and gender inequality.

These remarkable women carved a niche for themselves in an era where Indians were subjugated to many atrocities. With their indomitable spirit and resilience they not only soared to great heights but also helped others in the process. They emerged as a beacon of hope for the youth of India at a time they needed heroes. What is also noteworthy and significant is their families support, proving how family’s approval goes a long way in boosting the morale of an individual; be it a woman or man.

These scientists continue to serve as an inspiration to march ahead in their respective fields.

All images via Wikipedia

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2 Comments


  1. Nice collection! Very Inspiring …

  2. Women web is one of the inspiring sites. I truly like this site and all the stories. Looking forward for more inspiring stories which would help our society to change the old and filthy thoughts.

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