Udayavni Special

Lady of many firsts: Muthulakshmi Reddy is the ‘Indian face’ of true feminism


Team Udayavani, Sep 7, 2020, 1:21 PM IST

Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy was the first Indian woman legislator, a campaigner of women’s rights and the driving force behind one of the biggest cancer institute’s in India

She was born on 30th July 1886 in a middle-class family in Tamil Nadu. Her father was S. Narayanaswami Iyer, the Principal of Maharaja’s College. Her mother was Chandrammal, a Devadasi. Her father was ostracised from his family because of his marriage to a Devadasi

Her father sent Muthulakshmi to school and her enthusiasm for learning was so great that Muthulakshmi’s teachers decided to instruct her in subjects beyond those approved by her father.

She became the first girl student to be admitted into a Men’s college, which was Maharajas College, Pudukottai.

After her graduation from her hometown, she took admission into Madras Medical College in 1907.

She formed a deep friendship with Sarojini Naidu and Annie Besant, whose personal philosophies influenced Muthulakshmi’s future endeavours.

In 1912, She became the first Indian woman to graduate medical college and she also went on to become the first female legislator in British India.

Muthulakshmi also became the first woman House surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital. She married Dr Sundera Reddi and gave birth to two sons.

Muthulakshmi was the first woman Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board in 1954

After her entry into politics, she helped in raising the minimum age for marriage for girls and also pushed the Council to pass the Immoral Traffic Control Act because human trafficking was a major concern at that time.

She built Avvai Home in order to provide shelter to Devdasi women. However, today, doors are open to all women who need shelter and protection.  She also built  cancer speciality hospitals.

In 1956, she was awarded the Padma Bhusan for her social work. She died on 22nd July 1968 at the age of 81.

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