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.

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