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About Ida Sophia Scudder
In the early 1890s in India, before Ida Scudder had even decided to study medicine, she was summoned one evening to attend several women in childbirth whose husbands refused to allow the presence of a male physician. Watching helplessly as all three women died, Scudder committed herself to providing Indian women with medical education and care. She went on to do just that, in a career spanning five decades.
Ida Scudder was born in Ranipet, India, to a missionary family. Her grandparents on her father's side had moved to India as the country's first medical missionary family. Following tradition, her father John completed medical training and then set up a mission in Vellore, India, with his wife, Vermont-born Sophia Weld. The couple had six children, of which Ida was the youngest and the only daughter. In 1878, following a cholera epidemic and a severe famine, the couple decided to go to the United States for a short time. When they returned to India a few years later, they left 13-year old Ida behind under the stern guardianship of an aunt and uncle to complete her education.
In 1887 when they also left to become missionaries in Asia, Ida Scudder confessed in her diary to feelings of loneliness and abandonment. At Northfield Seminary, in Massachusetts, she spent a few years in school, but was forced to withdraw in 1890 without graduating in order to return to India and care for her sick mother. Firmly set against a missionary life, Scudder planned to leave India as soon as possible. After watching three women die in childbirth she changed her mind, realizing that she wanted to carry on the work of a medical missionary.
She returned to the United States, resolved to follow in her father's footsteps. In 1895, she enrolled in the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania, completing her final year in 1899 at Cornell University Weill Medical College in order to take advantage of that institution's exceptional clinical training. Immediately after graduation, she set out to raise money to establish a hospital in Vellore, India. The following year, she set off for India with Annie Hancock, a classmate from Northfield Seminary. Within just a few months of her arrival, however, her father died. Her father's former patients were wary of the new young woman physician, and Scudder found herself operating in a tiny mission bungalow with her mother as assistant. With the money she had collected in America, she began the construction of a small hospital, which opened in 1902. For the next 22 years, she remained the hospital's only surgeon. Travelling by train, carriage, or pony cart, she also established a roadside dispensary service to treat patients who could not make the trip to Vellore, as well as a tuberculosis sanitarium. Eventually, her weekly trips to the countryside developed into a system of roadside clinics offering public health services and education to people in remote locations.
Convinced of the need to train Indian women to provide medical treatment to other women, Dr. Scudder began a program at her hospital to instruct women nurses, which expanded into a nursing school by 1909. Her next ambition was to open a medical school to train physicians. This was no easy matter. She had to raise funds in Britain and the United States, promote interdenominational support for the project among religious and missionary groups, and convince the local Indian government to provide subsidies.
With the help of her close friend Gertrude Dodd, who provided funds from her inheritance, Dr. Scudder managed to achieve her goal, and the Union Mission Medical School for Women opened in 1918. Making regular trips abroad to raise funds and support for the school, she continued as its surgeon, instructor and administrator. The school faced a crisis in 1938, when the Chennai (Madras) government passed a law that medical degrees could only be granted by universities, but instead of closing the school, Dr. Scudder lobbied her supporters. By 1950, the school had become affiliated with the University of Madras. Dr. Scudder retired shortly thereafter, having seen her school grow from a small institution to one that supported a large staff and trained hundreds of women nurses and physicians.
Throughout her career, Dr. Scudder's work brought her wide renown, in addition to numerous awards. She died in 1960 at her bungalow home in India, where she had spent her life helping to improve medical education.
Dr. Ida Sophia Scudder (December 9, 1870 – May 24, 1960) was a third-generation American medical missionary in India of the Reformed Church in America. She dedicated her life to the plight of Indian women and the fight against bubonic plague, cholera and leprosy. In 1918, she started one of Asia's foremost teaching hospitals, the Christian Medical College & Hospital, Vellore, India.
She was born of Dr. John Scudder Jr. and his wife, Sophia (née Weld), part of a long line of medical missionaries (see Scudders in India). The granddaughter of John Scudder, Sr., as a child in India, she witnessed the famine, poverty and disease in India. She was invited by Dwight Moody to study at his Northfield Seminary in Massachusetts, where she earned a reputation for pranks.
She initially expected to get married and settle down in the United States after seminary, but in 1890 she went back to India to help her father when her mother was ailing at the mission bungalow at Tindivanam. Ida had expressed a resolve not to become a medical missionary, but during that stay, she had the enlightening experience of not being able to help three woman in childbirth who died needlessly in one night. That experience convinced her that God wanted her to become a physician and return to help the women of India. She never married.
She graduated from Cornell Medical College, New York City in 1899, as part of the first class at that school that accepted women as medical students. She then headed back to India, fortified with a $10,000 grant from a Mr. Schell, a Manhattan banker, in memory of his wife. With the money, she started a tiny medical dispensary and clinic for women at Vellore, 75 miles from Madras. Her father died in 1900, soon after she arrived in India. In two years she treated 5,000 patients. She opened the Mary Taber Schell Hospital in 1902.
Ida Scudder realized that she would be foolish to go on alone in her fight to bring better health to South India's women, so she decided to open a medical school for girls. Skeptical males said she would be lucky to get three applicants; actually she had 151 the first year (1918), and had to turn many away ever since. At first, the Reformed Church in America was the main backer of the Vellore school, but after Dr. Scudder agreed to make it coeducational, it eventually gained the support of 40 missions. Of 242 students today, 95 are men.
Christian Medical College, Vellore
In 1928 ground was broken for the "Hillsite" medical school campus on 200 acres (0.8 km²) at Bagayam, Vellore. In 1928, Mahatma Gandhi visited the medical school. She traveled a number of times to the United States to raise funds for the college and hospital, raising a total in the millions. In 1945, the college was opened to men as well as women. In 2003 the Vellore Christian Medical Center was the largest Christian hospital in the world, with 2000 beds, and its medical school is now one of the premier medical colleges in India.
One day in 1953, aged 82, she was at "Hilltop", her bungalow at Kodaikanal, which overlooked Vellore's Christian Medical College and its hospital, and opened a stack of letters and telegrams. Her name is a famous one in India. A letter once reached her addressed simply, "Dr. Ida, India." But the mail was heavier than usual because friends around the world were congratulating her on winning the Elizabeth Blackwell Citation from the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, as one of 1952's five outstanding women doctors.
She died, aged 89, at her bungalow.
A stamp issued on August 12, 2000, as part of centenary celebrations of Christian Medical College, depicts the college chapel, the motivating monument of the medical college and hospital, symbolising the ethos of the institution. The First-day cover portrays Dr Ida Scudder, who founded the institute in 1900, working for the medical requirements of pregnant women.
Ida Scudder School in Viruthampet, Vellore, named in her honour.