Muthulakshmi Reddy
Muthulakshmi Reddy, c. 1912
Born(1886-07-30)30 July 1886
Died22 July 1968(1968-07-22) (aged 81)
Known forSocial Reformer, Women's Rights Activism and Writing
SpouseSundara Reddy
ChildrenS. Krishnamurthi
S. Rammohan
RelativesGemini Ganesan (nephew)
AwardsPadma Bhushan (1956)

Muthulakshmi Reddy (also spelled Reddi in some British Indian sources; 30 July 1886 – 22 July 1968) was an Indian medical practitioner, social reformer and Padma Bhushan award recipient.[1][2]

Muthulakshmi Reddy was appointed to the Madras Legislative Council in 1926.[3] This nomination marked the beginning of her lifelong effort to "correct the balance for women by removing social abuses and working for equality in moral standards″. She was a women's activist and social reformer.[4][5]

She had a number of firsts to her name: the first female student to be admitted into a men's college, the first woman House Surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital, the first woman Legislator in British India, the first Chairperson of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board, the first woman Deputy President of the Legislative Council, and the first woman in the Madras Corporation she built Avvai Home in 1953.[6]

Reddy was born in the princely state of Pudukkottai of Tamil Nadu.[7] In spite of various constraints faced by girls in India of her time, she completed her higher education and was admitted into the medical profession. In 1907, she joined the Madras Medical College, where she achieved a brilliant academic record.[8] With several gold medals and prizes to her credit, Reddy graduated in 1912 to become one of the first female doctors in India. Soon after, she came under the influence of Annie Besant, and then of Mahatma Gandhi.[9]

She was born to a Tamil Family. 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. She developed a close relationship with the maternal side of her family, and this closeness made her very perceptive of the Devadasi community and their issues. Narayanaswami Iyer broke the tradition and sent Muthulakshmi to school. Her enthusiasm for learning was so great that Muthulakshmi's teachers decided to instruct her in subjects beyond those approved by her father. At the onset of puberty, she was obliged to leave school, but tutoring continued at home. Chandrammal wanted to search for a bridegroom but Muthulakshmi had different aspirations. She expressed a need to be different from the common lot. She was against the subordination of women to men and rebelled whenever she heard people say that only boys needed education.[10]

Dr Muthulakshmi at the Paris Women's Congress, 1926

When Reddy passed the Matriculation exam she applied for admission to Maharaja's College but her application was not welcomed by the Principal or the parents of other students. Her gender was a factor as was her background. The Principal thought she might "demoralize" the male students. The somewhat enlightened Maharaja of Pudukottai ignored these objections, admitted her to the college, and gave her a scholarship. Her father suggested that she can become a school teacher but she had higher aspirations. She entered Madras Medical College, completed her studies in 1912, and became House Surgeon in the Government Hospital for Women and Children in Chennai.

She later married Sundara Reddy with the proviso that he promised to "always respect me as an equal and never cross my wishes." In 1914, when she was twenty-eight years of age, they married in accordance with the 1872 Native Marriage Act.[11] After the marriage of Muthulakshmi with Sundara Reddy she got her surname Reddy. Famous Tamil actor Gemini Ganesan is the son of Muthulakshmi Reddy's brother Ramasamy.

Her name was included in the first national flag hoisted on Red Fort in 1947.


Title page of My Experiences as a Legislator (1930)

During her college years, Muthulakshmi met Sarojini Naidu and began to attend women's meetings. She found women who shared her concerns and addressed them in terms of women's rights. The two great personalities who influenced her life were Mahatma Gandhi and Annie Besant. They persuaded her to devote herself to uplifting women and children. She worked for women's emancipation at a time when women were confined in the four walls of their room.[12]


She went to England for higher studies and she gave up her rewarding practice in medicine in response to a request from the Women's Indian Association (WIA) to enter the Madras Legislative Council. She was elected unanimously as its deputy president. She led the agitation for the municipal and legislative franchise for women. She was concerned about the orphans, especially girls. She arranged for them free board and lodging and started the Avvai Home in Chennai.[13]

Muthu Lakshmi was the author of numerous social reforms. Her book My Experience as a Legislator records her service. She passed a resolution to establish a special hospital for women and children. The government accepted her suggestion and opened a children's section in the maternity hospital. She recommended systematic medical inspection of students in all schools and colleges, run by municipalities as well as other local bodies. Kasturba Hospital at Triplicane is a monument to her efforts.[14]

She was the president of the All-India Women's Conference. She passed the bill for the suppression of brothels and the immoral trafficking of women and children. A home called Avvai Home for girls and women was opened through her efforts to provide shelter to those rescued from brothels.

"The hostels were all caste-based and would not admit them. Neither would schools. It was then that she decided to house them and educate them herself. Thus was born 'Avvai Illam'(Avvai's Home) for the poor and destitute girls." [15]

Due to her efforts, a hostel for Muslim girls was opened and scholarships were given to Harijan girls. She recommended to the government that the minimum age for marriage be raised to at least 21 for boys and 16 for girls.[16]

Muthu Lakshmi also started the Cancer Relief Fund. This has now developed into an all-India institution combining therapy and research on cancer and attracting patients from all over India. She became the first chairperson of the State Social Welfare Board. Her work on the Hartog Education Committee, which incorporated a study of educational progress in India, is a great achievement. As a member of this committee, she traveled extensively and studied the progress of women's education throughout the country. She was the only female member of the committee and brought about many improvements. She was also the editor of Roshini, an important journal of AIWC.[citation needed]

She continued to fight for her cause till the end of her days and never let anything stand in her way. Even at the age of 80, she was energetic and vibrant. Her human preoccupations took her away from politics and she stuck to her mission and Gandhian ways. She was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the President of India in 1956. Her two outstanding monumental gifts for India remain the Avvai Home (for children) and the Cancer Institute.[citation needed]

Political career

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She was nominated by Sakthi Hari Haran to the Madras Legislature as a member of the legislative council in 1926 and became the first woman to be a member of any legislature in India. When she was elected as the deputy chairperson of the legislative council, she became the first woman in the world to become the vice president of a legislature. She was the prime mover behind the legislation that abolished the Devadasi system and played a keen role in raising the minimum marriage age for women in India. In 1930, she resigned from the Madras Legislature as a protest following the imprisonment of Mahatma Gandhi. She argued for the removal of the Devadasi system that was widely prevalent in Tamil Nadu at that time against stiff resistance from the Congress lobby led by Dheerar Sathyamoorthy, also from Pudhukkottai. She was the founder-president of the Women's Indian Association (WIA) and became the first alderwoman of the Madras Corporation.

Reddy was active in setting up of several toilets and women's toilets and initiated measures to improve the medical facilities given to slum dwellers. In 1930, she founded Avvai Illam

Adyar Cancer Institute

During her address at the Centenary celebration of 1935, she declared her desire to start a hospital for cancer patients. The foundation stone for Adyar Cancer Institute was laid by prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952. The hospital, which started functioning on 18 June 1954, was the second of its kind in India. Today it treats nearly 80,000 cancer patients a year.[17][18]

Services to the Tamil Language and people

She worked for the Tamil music movement, Tamil Language development and she protested to increase the salary of Tamil teachers and writers. She was the editor of the monthly magazine 'Sthree Dharumam' for women run by the Indian Women Association.

Awards and books

Her book My Experience as a Legislator recounts her initiatives in respect of social reforms taken by her in the Madras Legislature.

Government of India conferred on her Padma Bhushan in 1956 in recognition of her meritorious services to the nation.[2]

Reddi inspired an award that is given to women who have given service in cancer prevention.[19]


On 30 July 2019, Google showed a Doodle celebrating what would have been her 133rd birthday.[20]

In 2022 a monograph was published, Muthulakshmi Reddy—A Trailblazer in Surgery and Women’s Rights written by VR Devika, emphasizing the contributions of this legendary medical practitioner, social reformer, and feminist to the development of Indian women.

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Kamatchi, M. (2016). "Muthulakshmi Reddy: The First Medical Woman Professional in South India". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 77: 612–623. ISSN 2249-1937. JSTOR 26552689.
  2. ^ a b "List of recipients of Padma Bhushan awards (1954–59)" (PDF). Ministry of Home Affairs (India). 14 August 2013. pp. 1–9. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 October 2015. Retrieved 23 August 2015.
  3. ^ Hartog, P. J.; Selby-Bigge, L. A.; Ahmed, S. Sultan; Anderson, G.; Narendranath; Reddi, S. Muthulakshmi; Statham, R. M. (1929). Interim Report of the Indian Statutory Commission Review of Growth of Education in British India by the Auxiliary Committee Appointed by the Commission. Calcutta, Central Publication Branch.
  4. ^ Yadav, Karan (30 July 2019). "Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy: The unsung feminist of India". India Today. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  5. ^ "Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddi: A Powerful Face of Nationalist Feminism". The Wire. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  6. ^ Devika, V. R. (26 April 2018). "Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy, a rebel with a cause". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  7. ^ Kumar, Sneha (28 May 2018). "Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy: Founder Of Adyar Cancer Institute | #IndianWomenInHistory". Feminism In India. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  8. ^ "The inspiring story of Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy, Who broke barriers in Education, Medicine and Law". DailyRounds. 31 July 2019. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  9. ^ Madras medical college – history Archived 10 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "You are being redirected..." Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  11. ^ "They say everything that happens, happens for a reason. But there are those rare people who live their lives in such a manner that they challenge destiny and emerge as great personalities. | Unsungs". Retrieved 25 May 2019.
  12. ^ Padmanabhan, Geeta (3 March 2015). "Stones that tell a story". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  13. ^ "Avvai Home". Retrieved 15 February 2019.
  14. ^ "Hospital Day observed". The Hindu. 30 July 2019. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  15. ^ Devika, VR (2022). Muthulakshmi Reddy: A Trailblazer in Surgery and Women's Rights (1st ed.). New Delhi, India: Niyogi Books India Pvt Ltd. ISBN 9789391125677.
  16. ^ "Cancer Institute (WIA) Chennai, Adyar". Retrieved 16 May 2022.
  17. ^ Adyar Cancer institute
  18. ^ Viswanathan, S. "The Pioneers: Dr Muthulakshmi". Frontline. The Hindu. Retrieved 26 April 2013.
  19. ^ "88 nurses honoured with 'Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy certificate' for their service in cancer prevention". The Hindu. 7 February 2016. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 23 April 2019.
  20. ^ "Muthulakshmi Reddi's 133rd Birthday". 30 July 2019.