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MARY POONEN LUkOSE (1886-1976)

Mary Poonen Lukose was a doctor and the first woman Surgeon General of India. Her father was Dr T.E. Poonen, the first graduate in medicine from Kerala .He got his degree from Aberdeen University in the UK and was Royal Physician of Travancore. Mary aspired to be a doctor like her father. She secured a first class and won a gold medal in her high school examination, but was denied admission to the science course of the Maharaja College, Tiruvananthapuram, because she was a woman. Instead she became the first woman graduate in arts from Madras University in 1909.

Nevertheless she remained resolved to become a doctor and so went to London University to study science. She was the first Indian student to join London University’s MBBS course. She also passed the London Music Examination at the age of 18.

She then opted for postgraduate study in obstetrics and gynecology at the famous Rotunda Hospital in Dublin and trained in paediatrics at the Children’s Hospital, Great Ormond Street, London. Meanwhile her father died and she had to return to India in 1915. In 1916 she was appointed obstetrician of W&C Hospital, Thaikadu, becoming the first Indian to hold the post. She continued there till 1917, often having to do Caesarian sections by the light of a hurricane lamp. In two years she did more than a thousand such operations. She set up training centres for nurses. In the first batch the daughters of local dais or traditional birth attendants joined the course. Gradually the scheme became extremely popular and a network of training centres emerged. She went into politics and in 1922 she became the first woman legislator in Travancore. In 1924 she was put in charge of the State Health Department of Travancore. In 1938 she became the first woman Surgeon General, not only of India but the world. She established the tuberculosis sanitarium at Nagercoil. She married K.K. Lukose, a lawyer. She was given the title of Vaidyasasthrakusala by Chithira Thirunal. She was President of the YWCA for 50 years and Chief Commissioner of the Girl Guides in India.
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