22 Feb Edith Mary Brown – A Pioneer in Medical Training in Asia
Dame Edith Mary Brown (1864-1956) was a British doctor and medical educator who founded the Christian Medical College, Ludhiana, Punjab in 1894. It was the first medical training facility for women in Asia. She served as Principal of the college for half a century. Brown was a pioneer in the instruction of Indian female doctors and midwives with modern western methods.
Edith Mary Brown was born in Whitehaven, Cumberland in 1864, the fourth of five sisters. Her father died when she was young, and the family moved to London. Her older sister was a missionary, which led Brown to develop interest in medicine and mission. She graduated from Girton College, Cambridge, one of the first women to be admitted to the Honours Degree Examination at the University of Cambridge in 1882. After graduating she studied medicine at the London School of Medicine for Women and in Edinburgh where she got qualified as a doctor of medicine in 1891. The Baptist Missionary Society sent Brown to and she arrived on 9th November 1891.
In 1881, the Greenfield sisters started the medical mission in Ludhiana. They were evangelists and educationalists from Scotland. Their pioneering medical work was the precursor of the Medical Training and Health Care Service Programme of the present Christian Medical College, Ludhiana. When the Greenfield sisters and their associates organized Health Care Educational Services, Dr Edith Mary Brown joined them in 1893.
She was shocked by the medical conditions in India and felt a need to educate women, particularly midwives. She was appalled by the neglect of women, who were silently suffering from diseases of ignorance, illiteracy and the pardah system and due to these they were deprived of medical treatment. That was when she decided that if she had to change this, she would require a team of trained people in this mammoth task.
A group of women missionaries met in Ludhiana for 3 days. And the result was a medical school in Ludhiana with 30 beds was initiated in a rented building. In January 1894, a woman in Bristol donated £ 50 (£ 5,085 now) to help Brown rent an old school house in Ludhiana. In 1894 the North Indian School of Medicine for Christian Women was started by Dr Brown and her colleagues. The object was to train Indian nationals, particularly the women, in service of medical education and health care services. Integration of training and health care services training was emphasized. She started a Christian medical training centre for women, the North India School of Medicine for Christian Women, with 4 students and 4 faculty. The medical school, the first for women in India, grew into a full college with medical, nursing and pharmacy schools, and a hospital with 200 beds.
The institution continued to be run by women, for women and children, until 1947. During the partition of British India in 1947, Punjab was split into India and Pakistan, resulting in massacres of thousands in Ludhiana. Many Muslim employees of the college and hospital fled for Pakistan, while Sikh and Hindu refugees arrived over the border. Despite the violence, the college and hospital remained safe from attack. The hospital became an emergency centre for the seriously injured.
The period from 1894 to 1952 saw the development from its beginning as a School of Medicine for Christian Women to Women’s Christian Medical College. In 1952 when the name was changed to Christian Medical College to enable it to admit men and women for the upgraded MBBS course, which came into effect for its first admission from 1953.
A major landmark in the history of the school was the inauguration of the Brown Memorial Hospital in March 1957. Today the same CMC & Hospital is a premier institution, It has expanded its services, and includes Christian Medical College, Dental College, College of Nursing, College of Physiotherapy and Institute of Allied Health Sciences. It acts as a referral hospital for a large area around.While CMC continues to be involved in community outreach, it has grown leaps and bounds in highly developed specialized services.
By November 1951, on the 60th anniversary of Brown’s arrival in India, the college had graduated 411 doctors, 143 nurses, 168 pharmacy dispensers and more than 1,000 midwives. Brown retired as principal in 1952 and moved to Kashmir. Brown died on 6, December 1956 in Srinagar at the age of 92.
Now CMC has 122 years of history, making it one of the oldest educational institutions and hospital not only in Punjab, but in India as a whole. Today in the present scenario, the institution that has put Ludhiana District on the world map is alleviating the pains of the city and the Punjab state in a much better way than before.
Though dead, Mary Brown continues to speak and challenge our commitment to the Jesus Christ and love for our country. Let’s pray that God would raise many more people who has similar vision and passion to the people of India and world.
The author is UESI staff trainee based in Chandigarh.