Advancing women’s rights in India
Muthulakshmi Reddy (30 July 1886 - 22 July 1968)
Muthulakshmi Reddy (30 July 1886 – 22 July 1968) founded India’s Adyar Cancer Institute, and fought to improve the lives of impoverished women and girls. In addition to the cancer institute, she established the Avvai Home & Orphanage to shelter, protect and educate orphan girls and deserted women. A champion of women’s rights from a young age, Reddy resisted being married off at adolescence, instead becoming the first female student in the Department of Surgery at the Madras Medical College. As a doctor, Reddy opposed the practice of wet nursing, in which babies of upper caste women were breastfed by oppressed lower caste women. Nominated to the Madras Presidency Council and subsequently becoming its first female deputy president, Reddy was also responsible for several reforms that improved women’s social standing and welfare. Among them were setting up hospitals for women and children, introducing measures to improve medical facilities for people living in slums, and constructing toilets for women. Reddy also fought to raise the age of marriage for girls and championed women’s rights to property, education, and career. For her contributions, she was conferred the Padma Bhushan, the third-highest civilian award in the Republic of India, in 1956.