19th century Indian Women in U.S. Medical School III

I haven’t been able to find much on Dora Chatterjee’s career online. I imagine there’s much more to her story in the archives somewhere, but this will be a project I’ll have to save for another time.

Dora Chatterjee, c.1905-10

Dora Chatterjee, c.1905-10

In the Drexel archives, there are some clippings from May 14-16, 1901 about Dora as a “Hindu Prince’s daughter,” slated to graduate from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania along with a “pretty Russian.” These clippings also reveal Dora refused to don the graduating cap and gown, preferring to adorn traditional sari—which is shown in the class photo in my previous post. As with Anandibai Joshi and Gurubai Karmarkar, Dora returned to India shortly after graduating.

I did a search through GoogleBooks looking for mentions of Dora, especially in literature that mentions the work of missionaries in India. Annual reports of Presbyterian missionaries mention she returned to Hoshiarpur (Punjab, India) in 1902, with her parents anxiously awaiting her arrival at the train station. Her parents are fascinating individuals. Her father, Dr. Kali Charan Chatterjee, worked as a missionary for forty-eight years in Hoshiarpur; his life was captured by the revered J.C.R. Ewing, in A Prince of the Church in India (1918).

Kali Charan Chatterjee was born on August 23, 1839 at Sukhchan, a village on the left-bank of the river Hugli, about eight miles north of Calcutta. He was a prince born into an eminent family; his father, Ram Hari Chatterjee, was a Kulin Brahman of the Radhiya class. As a teenager, Kali Charan left home to go to the Free Church Mission House to apply for baptism; on November 8, 1854, he was baptised by his mentor Rev. Dr. David Ewant, the superintendent of the mission who would eventually die from cholera. Kali Charan was shunned from his family for renouncing Hinduism and as a consequence, his position in society was lowered in ranks. As Ewing explains, when Kali Charan left home, “A storm of persecution burst upon him. Driven from his home, separated from friends and relatives, he was once esteemed as an outcast from society and was abused and mocked wherever he went.”

Rev. Kali Charan Chatterjee, Portrait taken in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1910

Rev. Kali Charan Chatterjee, Portrait taken in Edinburgh, Scotland, 1910

Educated by the Missionary society and having learned English, Kali Charan Chatterjee travelled with missionaries, educating others and providing medical care where necessary. Like so many others, he witnessed changes in India: the spread of education, introduction of new facilities for travel and communication, and increased travel to Europe and America. Even he would travel: in 1910, he was invited to participate in the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh.

In Punjab, Chatterjee became acquainted with a Mr. Golaknath, the first Brahman convert of the American Presbyterian Church in India, and who was in charge of the Mission at Jalandhar. On June 6, 1862, Chatterjee wed Golaknath’s second daughter, Mary. They eventually had five children: Golaknath, a son who had a brilliant career as a student in India and University of Cambridge, and was appointed as Professor of Mathematics in the Government College in Lahore; Mona, the eldest daughter who became wife of Dr. D.N.P. Datta, a surgeon and medical missionary; Lena, who served as a missionary in Hoshiarpur and eventually married Kanwar Raghbir Singh, a member of the Punjab Service; Nina, wife of Dr. George Nundy of the Hyderabad State Service. The youngest child was Dora. The family lived comfortably in a large white bungalow “encircled by wide verandas and set far back from the road amid shade trees, orchards and gardens.”[1]

Mrs. Mary Chatterjee, photo taken in America, 1887

Mrs. Mary Chatterjee, photo taken in America, 1887

Upon returning from the United States in 1902, Dora established the Denny Hospital for Women and Children in Hoshiarpur and worked alongside her father. Funds for the hospital were provided by Miss Anna Denny of New York, who chose Dora to be in charge of the hospital; additional liberal grants were given by the Government. Dora remained at her position until 1910, when at the age of 33, she married Rai Sahib Manghat Rai, a member of the provincial Civil Service in the Northwest Frontier Province.

Sometime around the early 1900s, Dora was hosted a visit from the American physician and surgeon, fellow WMCP graduate  Arley Isabel Munson Hare (1817-1941), who had also visited Gurubai Karmarkar in Bombay as well as Dora’s sister Nina in Hyderabad. Arley describes their visit:

“Dora’s cousin, a young Indian prince, met me at Jullunda, and we chatted pleasantly until Dora’s father, Dr. Chatterjee, the well-known scholar and philanthropist of the Punjab, arrived to take me to Hoshiarpur, some twenty-five miles distant. As we bowled over the smooth, hard road, as well kept as a city mall, Dr. Chatterjee told me fascinating tales of his boyhood days when he was a Bengali Brahman, and of the bitter persecution he suffered when he became a Christian. The long drive seemed scarcely to have begun before it ended and we were at Hoshiarpur, where my dear college mate and her charming mother and sisters greeted me most cordially…The days passed swiftly and pleasantly. Every morning Dora and I rose with the sun, and, after working most of the day at Dora’s hospital in the city, we spent the early evening in one festivity or another—a tennis or badminton party, a drive, a dinner or tea, calls, and usually two or three combined, for there are many English people of the Civil Service stationed at Hoshiarpur. It was hard indeed to leave my friends and the happy life of the Punjaub [sic] to begin the long, hot journey southward.”[2]



[1] Arley Munson, Jungle Days: Being the Experiences of an American Woman Doctor in India (New York & London: D. Appleton and Company, 1913), 84-5.

[2] Ibid.

Dieting Deafness Away

I’m sure some of you have heard of London-based undertaker William Banting (1797-1878), who was the first to popularize a low-carb diet that formed the basis of modern-day diets (think Atkins). Banting was an upper middle-class funeral director whose family held the Royal Warrant for burials for five generations, until 1928; George III, George IV, Prince Albert, and Queen Victoria were buried by the Banting family.

William Banting. (Wikipedia)

William Banting. (Wikipedia)

There’s plenty of commentaries on Banting’s diet floating around the Internet. A retired widower, he was obese, 5’5 and 202lbs at age 66, his heaviest weight. He wore a truss to hold in place an umbilical rupture. His weight—and the associated complications—was so bad he could not stop to tie his shoe, and had to go down the stairs backwards to limit the pain of weight on his knees and ankles. He tried various attempts to drop some pounds: “sea air and bathing in various localities, with much walking exercise; taken gallons of physic and liquor potassae, advisedly and abundantly; riding on horseback; the waters and climate of Leamington many times, as well as those of Cheltenham and Harrogate frequently…”[1] All of these were in vain.

In 1862, after finding his eyesight failing and his hearing greatly impaired, Banting consulted an aural surgeon, but was disappointed with the surgeon’s medical approach: He “made light of the case, looked into my ears, sponged them internally, and blistered the outside, without the slightest benefit, neither inquiring into any of my bodily ailments, which he probably thought unnecessary, nor affording me time to name them.”[2] After the surgeon went on holiday, Banting sought other assistance to relieve him from his ailments. He likely visited the Royal Dispensary for Diseases of the Ear (est. 1816), which in 1862, was directed by the aural surgeon William Harvey (1805/6-1876/9).

Harvey was a well-known aurist in London and had a steady career as a surgeon. He was educated at Guy’s Hospital and practiced general surgery for a few years before establishing himself as an aural specialist and publishing The Ear in Health and Disease in 1854. In addition to his post at the Royal Dispensary, Harvey was also aural surgeon to the Freemason’s Asylum for Female Children and the Great Northern Hospital. As he repeated often, he bore no relation to the physician William Harvey who experimented with blood circulation.

Upon examining Banting’s ears and assessing his obese stature, Harvey explained that the deafness was symptom of fat deposits in the Eustachian tubes. He advised Banting to overhaul his diet to lose weight, explaining that as the pounds came off, his hearing would be improved. Banting was advised to abstain from bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer, and potatoes, which had “been the main…elements of [his] existence.”[3] Instead, he was to eat four meals a day composed of meat, greens, fruit, and dry wine. The diet worked: Banting lost 46 pounds in a few months. He was so astounded by the results he gave Harvey an extra £50 to his usual fees, to be distributed amongst his favourite hospitals. In addition, Banting published a pamphlet in the form of an open testimonial, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public (1863).

The first edition was self-published at his own expense, but became so popular that he sold it; later editions were published by Harrison, London. The pamphlet and Banting’s dietary success became so well-known that “Do you bant?” became a referred to fashionable way of asking whether people were trying to drop a few pound.

Where did an aurist get the idea for dietary management as a way to improve hearing? According to Harvey, in 1856, while he was out for a walk in Paris, he came across an announcement for a lecture by Claude Bernard at the Paris School of Medicine. Through Bernard’s lectures, Harvey learned how starch could affect the body negatively and played a role in the production of insulin. Diabetics management in particular, could be handled with a proper diet—and of course, assist in losing weight.

Unfortunately for Harvey, false rumours spread in London that the diet had ruined Banting’s health, and that Harvey was to blame. Furthermore, his practice suffered as he was constantly ridiculed for being unable to explain why the diet worked; medical practitioners criticized the diet as “unscientific” and Harvey’s application of diet management as a process that could not be replicated under similar variables.


In 1872, Harvey published his own account of the diet, On Corpulence in Relation to Disease as a way to address some of the critique against him. In particular, he outlined how his treatment was misapplied in many cases, applied rashly and indiscreetly without proper medical advice. And of course, he points out, it “was…natural to expect that a pamphlet on a dietary for the cure of Corpulence, coming from a lay source, would not have found much favour with the profession, and that it would receive some severe criticism.”[4]The book is technically detailed, with information on the physiology and anatomy of the body, how fat deposits affect tissues and muscles, and symptoms of illness that arise from obesity. He also provides an explanation of how fatty deposits can enter the Eustachian tubes and result in temporary deafness through the mucus membranes.



[1] William Banting, Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public (1863), 12.

[2] Ibid, 16.

[3] Ibid, 17.

[4] William Harvey, On Corpulence in Relation to Disease (1872), vi.

19th Century Indian Women in U.S. Medical School Part II

“It is not more difficult to prove that Asiastic women have made good as Christian physicians. In India we point to Dr. Karmarkar and Dr. Joshi…”[1]

Since my original posting on three Indian women who attended the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, I’ve gotten several inquiries for more information on their stories. There’s plenty of information on Joshi (see my comment on the original post), so I did some more research on Gurubai Karmakar. This is only a preliminary start—I plan to eventually sketch out a fuller story of the experiences of Joshi, Karmarkar and Chatterjee.

Photo of Gurubai

Photo of Gurubai Karmarkar. From: Allen & Mason, A Crusade of Compassion for the Healing of the Nations (1919).

Gurubai Karmarkar attended the Women’s Medical College while her husband, Rev. Sumantrao Karmarkar studied at the Hartford Theological Seminary during from 1888s onwards. Both of their studies appeared to complement with their posts as Christian missionaries. In 1893, they returned to India and Karmarkar took up a position at the American Marathi Mission in Bombay, where she would work for over thirty years.

Her position at the American Mission not only made her well known in Bombay (Mumbai), but provided her with opportunities to represent India in missionary conferences around the world. She gave lectures on the state of women in India and how medical missionaries can help elevate their social standing. An 1893 volume of Life and Light for Woman, published by the Woman’s Board of Missions, mentions Karmarkar’s speech at the semi-annual meeting on June 1, 1893:

“Mrs. Gurubai Karmarkar, of Bombay, a graduate of the Women’s Medical College of Philadelphia, and about to return to India to engage in medical and evangelistic work, spoke impressively of the origins, the evils, and the sad results of child marriage in India, of the sufferings of the child widows, of the blessing which medical missionaries can carry with them, and the necessity of work among the women and in the homes. India would have been a Christian country by this time if it had not been for its women. Educate and convert these, and you will Christianize India.”

At the meeting, Karmarkar adorned a sari and the meeting records also refer to a Mrs. Vaitse and a Mrs. Miyagawa, who also wore their national dresses.

Karmarkar attended the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) meetings in Paris (1906) and Stockholm (1914).[2] Supposedly, in 1919 she also attended the first International Conference of Women Physicians held at the YWCA headquarters in New York, which had attendees from 32 countries for 6 weeks; I haven’t been able to verify Karmarkar’s attendance.

She also appeared to have attended a meeting of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions in October 1917 in Columbus, Ohio. She shared her notes on the medical work being done in India for lepers and the “criminal caste.” It’s likely her work with lepers inspired the American physician and surgeon, Arley Isabel Munson Hare (1817-1941) who also studied at the Women’s Medical College. Hare graduated in 1902 and eventually made her way to Bombay, staying with Karmarkar until she began her medical/evangelical mission working with lepers in Solapur.

Karmarkar was especially noted for her work with famine-struck children. An 1898 volume of Life and Light for Woman, describing the role missionaries play in the Indian famine and Karmarkar’s part:

“While the height of the suffering may have passed…we must not forget the terrible scars that it has left in its train…Weakened bodies, each one an easy prey to disease, hundreds of families where the bread winner had died, leaving helpless women and children absolutely penniless, widows and orphans whose little all has gone to buy food, men and women hopeless and helpless, sitting down by the roadside without the energy and courage to take up again the struggle for existence, present a pitiful picture indeed. One instance has come to our notice of a child rescued by Mrs. Karmarkar, and adopted as their own by her husband and herself, is described as follows: “She was almost starved; the hair on her head looked like grass, and long hair had grown on her face till she looked more like a monkey than a human being. Mrs. Karmarkar oiled the face, and gently pulled out one of those long hairs after another until not a trace of them remains. She has been cared for and wisely trained, until she has grown to be an attractive, obedient, and sweet mannered child.”

The Bombay mission Karmarkar worked at also played a crucial role during the plague outbreak of 1916. Many people came to the overcrowded dispensary for inoculation and Karmarkar found “wonderful door of opportunity [to improve public health] through her professional visits to the homes of all classes, from the poor women of the weaver castes to Wealthy Parsi and Mohammedan ladies, some of who is always ready to come to them when their call of distress comes to her ear.”[3] After her retirement, she donated funds to open the “Dr. Gurubai Karmarkar Wing” at Lincoln House in Bombay, now the Nagpada Neighborhood House.[4]

Photo of Gurubai  Karmarkar with a patient,c.1915. Congregational Library Exhibit

Photo of Gurubai  Karmarkar with a patient, c.1915. Congregational Library Exhibit

I leave you with Karmarkar’s own words, written in the 1898 Life and Light for Woman:

Although my going to Baroda [Vadodara] was an altogether unexpected step, yet on looking back upon a year of labor, with many thrilling and instructive experiences crowding into my memory, I earnestly thank God for his manifest guidance and help. The position of physician is a secular one, yet there was nothing in my office calculated to interfere with my freely speaking on spiritual matters, and showing an example of what a Christian life means. Almost without exception the homes of the people, from the smallest to the greatest, have been pleasantly thrown open to welcome me. But amid much that gladdens and cheers one, there is a deeper and predominant feeling of keen sorrow and concern for the thousands of women victims of the present system of Indian life, and realization of the imperative need of more penetrating and thorough Christian influence, to lighten the gloom of error and superstition which hangs like a cloud over the lives of rich and poor alike. Provision has been made for a certain amount of education, but the effectiveness and the results that might be expected are largely crippled by the fact that in Baroda the purdah system is more rigidly enforced than in many other states. One night at twelve o’clock I was called to see a woman who had given birth to a child, and was suffering from high fever. Upon examination I found that there was no serious complication, and concluded that she would speedily recover. But the fever still remained, and the parents became still more frightened on account of the plague prevailing in the city. Upon further scrutiny I noticed that the people of the house had a large lamp burning night and day in the room, in addition to a couple of charcoal braziers. So I determined seriously to interfere with the existing sanitary arrangement of the sick chamber. I ordered the lamp to be removed; had the bed dragged from its dark corner to the vicinity of the window, substituting some warm clothing for charcoal fires. That very night there was a decided change for the better, and after a few days that patient was completely well. This occurred in an educated household, where custom compelled them to have dark rooms vitiated by charcoal fumes and other unsanitary measures, even, to the detriment of their own kith and kin. Roughly, I have medically treated about 11,000 women and children, a large number of whom have shown signs of deep gratitude, which must inevitably tend to remove from their minds any pre-existing prejudice against Christian workers.



[1] Belle J. Allen and Caroline Atwater Mason, A Crusade of Compassion for the Healing of the Nations: A Study of Medical Missions for Women and Children (West Medford, Mass., 1919).

[2] Frances Dyer, Looking Back over Fifty Years. Women’s Board of Missions (Boston, MA, 1917).

[3] 107th annual report of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, 1917 (p.119)

[4] V.P. Rao, “Genesis, Rise and Socio-Cultural Development of Maharashtra” (2012).

Ear-picks to Q-tips

Cotton-wool has long been a staple in households as well as in the aural surgeon’s tool kit. For ear ailments, cotton was used in all sorts of ways: soaked in olive oil and inserted into the ear, trimmed and soaked in medicaments to cover a perforated eardrum, and even inserted between rubber to serve as a hearing aid. These days, the extent of our relationships between cotton and the ear is Q-tips®–most of us use these cotton swabs to clean out ear wax, risking the tremendous pain of stabbing our eardrums each and every time. We’re not supposed to use cotton swabs anymore, medical professions say, but that doesn’t really stop us, does it?

Did you know Q-tips® were invented in 1923 by Polish-born American Leo Gerstenzang (1892-1973)? He was inspired after watching his wife attach pieces of cotton to short sticks of wood to clean out hard-to-reach places. Gerstenzang founded a company, the Leo Gerstenzang Infant Novelty Company, which marketed baby care accessories; his cotton product was originally called Baby Gays. Yes, Baby Gays. By 1926, he changed the name to Q-tips® Baby Gays to identify the “quality” of the product. Eventually he changed the name again.

But Q-tips® were not the first technological product designed for cleaning out ears. Earwax was, and is, an annoying problem for most people. Too much of it not only feels gross, but can hamper hearing. How did people deal with this? Basic procedures: using the finger or small stick to clean out ear. If the earwax build-up was bad enough, a medical practitioner would recommend syringing with water or medicaments to weaken and drain out the earwax.

Ear Scoops, or Ear-picks were used for cleaning out the ear canal. People from all levels of society used these tools which were made from different types of materials. Some versions, however, were costly status symbols made for higher, fashionable living; they were made of gold or silver and intricately detailed. Some ear scoops were double-ended, with the other side for cleaning nails; others were a part of the splendour of toiletry, with a space reserved in toilet kits.


Bronze ladies’ toothpick/ear scoop, dating to c.1-3rd century Rome

Silver ear pick and nail parer, English c.1400-1500 (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Silver ear pick and nail parer, English c.1400-1500 (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Toilet case, 1750.  Kingwood parquetry box with combined silver ear pick & tongue scraper  (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Toilet case, 1750. Kingwood parquetry box with combined silver ear pick & tongue scraper (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Ear pick & spoon carved out of bone & used during American Civil War by Brigadier General Lewis Addison Grant (Minnesota Historical Society) 

Ear pick & spoon carved out of bone & used during American Civil War by Brigadier General Lewis Addison Grant (Minnesota Historical Society)

1898 cylindrical gold case with gold toothpick & earpick, French (British Museum)

1898 cylindrical gold case with gold toothpick & earpick, French (British Museum)

The British Museum has an amazing collection of ear picks. But really, anything–anything–was better than this:

Steam treatment? 17th century painting by G.M. Faenisch 

Steam treatment? 17th century painting by G.M. Faenisch 


Distraction in Google Newspaper Archives: Kondon’s Catarrhal Jelly

I love the fact while I go through newspaper archives dating from 1900-1930s, I find the most amazing things that makes me pause in my research and pursue the new find. Case in point: this weekend, I came across this ad:

photo 1

The Telegraph December 1, 1908.

This was yet another example of an early twentieth century product claiming to cure the complications of catarrh: headaches, sore throat, and even deafness. Catarrh, if you’re unaware, is an unpleasant nasal congestion with an excess build-up of mucus in the throat, nose, ears, or chest. It usually follows after persistent cold or flu; and as colds and flus affect people differently, so too does catarrh. Some people’s symptoms go away after a few days while others remain plagued for a few years.

Some nineteenth-century aurists explained the cause of catarrh as owing to a defect in the Eustachian tubes, which connects the middle ear to the pharynx. Fluid can build up there, thus accounting for excessive mucus in the ear and temporary deafness that occurred in some patients. Decongestants, air pumps, syringing, were recommended as treatments.

By the turn of the century, patent medicine in America became widespread through advertisements. Which leads me back to the advert I came across, for Kondon’s Catarrhal Jelly, which I’ve never heard of before. Naturally, I started digging into the product to uncover its history: was it a reputable product or another patented medicine propagated by a “quack” boasting of its ineffectiveness?

The advert indicates the product was manufactured in Minneapolis, Minnesota. So, off I searched for the Minnesota archives and found a bio of one Thomas N. Kenyon (1863-1935), the owner of the Kondon Manufacturing Company, which produced proprietary medicine in Minneapolis. Kenyon worked on a farm in New York state until he arrived to Minneapolis in 1882 and worked in a grocery store, eventually moving up as a traveling salesman for Frederick F. Ingram, drug specialist of Detroit.[1] Around the late 1890s, he developed Kondon’s Catarrhal Jelly.

The Jelly was initially distributed by free samples (enough for seven days) to increase its reputation:

Enough to prove to you conclusively that it is the most marvellous remedy for catarrh, the pleasantest, safest, most soothing and healing method for the treatment of this foul disease. [2]

Eventually the business grew to such an extent that Kenyon acquired a property to manufacture and spread the distribution. According to Rev. Marion Daniel Shutter, the business multiplied once Kenyon turned to newspaper advertising after a few years of mail-order samples and testimonials:

Since that time he has steadily increased his appropriation among the prominent dallies of the east and middle west. He is thoroughly systematic in his advertising and a firm believer in concentration…The success he has achieved, while in a great measure due to hard work and judicious advertising, could never have been accomplished without the backing of merit.

The Jelly was widely recognized throughout North America and England.

Kenyon’s life is grand with tales. He worked as the Director of the Minneapolis National Bank, he collected cars and driving horses, and apparently a domestic servant employed in his house was charged with insanity after she contemplated suicide following an unhappy love affair.

I searched through google newspaper archives quickly for more Kondon’s advertisements and came across this series from 1917.

photo 2 (2)

Gettysburg Times, February 28, 1917

photo 3 (2)

The Gazette Times, February 12, 1917

photo 1 (2)

The Day March 12, 1917

Clearly these ads depict how easy and versatile the product is, for a variety of everyday settings. Here’s another advert I found that highlights the longevity –and hence, general trustworthiness–of the company and product.

photo 3

The Pittsburgh Press Dec 15, 1921

Advertisements between 1930 and 1932 were overseen by the Mac Martin Advertising Company, a prominent figure in the advertising community of Minneapolis.

That’s as far as I got before I realized I really should get back to writing my overdue article…


[1] Rev. Marion Daniel Shutter, History of Minneapolis, Gateway to the Northwest Volume III (Chicago & Minneapolis: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1923), 450-453.

[2] Meriden Morning Record October 6, 1908.