Muthulaxmi Reddi, the woman with many firsts to her name, broke the barriers of gender and pushed her boundaries in multiple areas. She left a mark in the fields of medicine, education, law and much more.
Hailing from humble beginnings, she was born on the 30th of July 1886 in Pudukottai, Tamil Nadu to Narayanaswami Iyer, a principal of the Maharaja College at the time and Chandramma, a former devadasi. Seeing her enthusiasm to learn, her father decided to educate her.
She passed the matriculation in 1902 with flying colours and was eligible to apply to a college. She sent in her application to Maharaja College for higher education which was not received well by society. The maharaja at the time, disregarded all protests and granted her a scholarship to pursue her education. She went on to study medicine and became a house surgeon at the Government hospital for women and children in Chennai.
On the request of the Women’s Indian Association, she became a member of the Madras Legislative Council. She was then elected as its vice president where she helped pass legislations that affect us till date. She raised the age of consent for marriage to 16 years for girls and 21 years for boys.
She became a member of the State Social Welfare Advisory board and later got elected to the Madras Corporation as its Alderwoman.
Being so closely related to the Devadasi system, she not only moved to abolish it but also worked to shut down brothels by passing the Immoral Traffic Control Act.
Despite all of her efforts, devadasis were still enveloped in societal pressures and prejudices. In order to protect them and provide them with safe sanctuary, she started the Avvai Home from her own house in Adyar.
Her persistent efforts to improve the condition of women and children in all areas were widely recognized . The Leaders of the time chose to include her name in the first flag of Independent India that was hoisted on Red fort in 1947.
In this picture, she is seen being felicitated by the then President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
Dr. Muthulaxmi Reddi lost a sister to cancer and had a long standing dream to set up a specialized institution for cancer care. The Adyar Cancer Institute came into being in 1954 which provided treatment to all people equally, regardless of their socio-economic background. The institute still stands strong and has conducted extensive research in the field to provide care for the diagnosed.
She dedicated her life to helping improve the status of women in our society and contributed to the growth and development of the country. Her continuous and persistent efforts were awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1956.
She passed away in the year 1968. Her efforts towards empowering women resonate in our lives till today. Leaving a lasting impression on many, her story is an inspiration to women all over the world.