Clara A. Swain enjoyed the honorable distinction of being not only the pioneer woman physician in India, but also the “first fully accredited woman physician ever sent out by any missionary society into any part of the Non Christian world”. She arrived in India on January 20, 1870 and settled in Bareilly (North India).Clara Swain Hospital for Women, the first of its kind for the whole of Asia, grew out of Clara’s medical class that began with 14 girls in 1870.She started medical missionary work for women in a region where there were no precedents for such work. Clara trained local women to join medical work first as assistants and later as qualified professionals.
About Dr. Clara A. Swain
Dr. Clara A. Swain (18 July 1834 - 25 December 1910) was a physician and missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church. She has been called the "pioneer woman physician in India," and as well as the "first fully accredited woman physician ever sent out by any missionary society into any part of the Non-Christian world". Her call to service in India fell from a need to have a female physician provide quality medical care to high-caste women, that were religiously secluded to zenana. Supported by the Women's Foreign Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Swain left the United States in 1869, for Bareilly, India, where she spent the next twenty-seven years of her life treating women and children from illnesses, while simultaneously working to evangelize natives.
It was the first hospital for women in India where all women could come without breaking caste or class rules; it provided seclusion for patients observing purdah and could accommodate families and even servants of those who would not stay otherwise. She left her imprint on history and an inspiring legacy for subsequent generations to take their programs further ahead. For twenty seven years Clara faced the challenge of India’s need for educated women in the field of medicine.Her achievements were very significant as missionary educator, as a physician, as a writer, as a zenena worker, as a social reformer, as a forerunner of the great advance medical movement and as a trend setter.
She lived in the campus of the institution where she worked. More importantly, speaking local language, she lived in close proximity to her students and patients. She was regarded as a mother figure and a figure of authority welding administrative power-both mentor and maternal. Clara as physician brought professional expertise, the full-time commitment of a single- women missionary, and the enthusiasm of a professional, who had found a niche for self-fulfillment.
Clara’s success paved the way for other women to join medical profession. In fact her appointment as a medical missionary made history for women in medicine on two separate counts. Thus the possibility that women could choose between marriage and a career, or choose both, has gradually become a reality, as a consequence of the advent of Clara. It was the mission of Clara that participated Indian interest in women’s medical education.