Legacy of Dr Mary Poonen: Kerala’s first lady doctor

Thiruvananthapuram: Finance minister T M Thomas Isaac struck the right chord when he allocated 13.6 per cent of the budget allocation for women-oriented schemes. He emphasized the shot at gender equity by liberally quoting from women writers of Malayalam, from Balamaniyamma to N P Sneha, a school student. One woman stood out among the crowd of writers. She was Dr Mary Poonen Lukose. Isaac mentioned Dr Lukose while detailing the government’s comprehensive health security scheme, ‘Ardram’. Dr Lukose had several firsts to her credit. She was the first woman to get herself admitted to the University College in Thiruvananthapuram. She was the first woman to receive a medical degree from Britain. She was the first woman legislator of the Travancore legislative assembly. She was also the world’s first female surgeon general.

Dr Lukose and the first generation of medical professionals were instrumental in laying the foundation of Kerala’s coveted public health model, an achievement recognized by a Padmasri in 1975. She founded the Tuberculosis Sanitarium at Nagercoil and the X-Ray and Radium Institute in Thiruvananthapuram. She headed the health department of the princely state of Travancore.

She was born into a well-off family at Aymanam near Kottayam on August 2, 1886. Her father, T E Poonen, was the first medical doctor in Kerala.

She completed her school education at the Holy Angels Convent School in Thiruvananthapuram. She wanted to pursue science in the University College but the college would not admit girls to science courses those days. She chose history instead and graduated in 1909.

She sailed to London since no university in India would admit a girl to a medical science course. She became the first woman from Kerala to get a medical degree. She specialized in gynecology and pediatrics and served in various hospitals in Britain.

She returned to Kerala in 1916 after the death of her father and joined the Women and Children’s Hospital at Thycaud in Thiruvananthapuram. A year later, she married K K Lukose, an advocate who later rose to be a judge of the Travancore High Court.

Dr Lukose was nominated to the Travancore legislative assembly in 1922. Two years later, she became the first surgeon general in India. She died on October 2, 1976. She was 90.

Isaac chose to throw light on the glittering career of a pioneering woman from Kerala. She was way ahead of her times.

Dr Mary Poonen Lukose is the grand aunt of Dr Marina Varghese

Read more at: https://english.manoramaonline.com/women/on-a-roll/2018/02/02/mary-poonen-first-kerala-lady-doctor-isaac-speech.html

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