Madras Miscellany History & Culture

A medical education through struggle

The centenary celebrations of medical education in Vellore were recently inaugurated though it was July 1918 before permission had been given and August 1918 before classes started. But what a struggle it had been to get to that point! To appreciate what Dr Ida Scudder, of the Mary Taber Schell Hospital she had started in 1902 in Vellore, and that group of women in America interested in the uplift of women went through even before this small hospital was started and nurtured thereafter, you need to read Dr Ida by Dorothy Clarke Wilson (1959 and now out of print for years). They took around begging bowls, made impassioned speeches and pleaded with all whom they could reach. And in the end they saw what they started grow as a women’s hospital, then as the CMS Hospital, Vellore, open to all, start a medical school for women and then see it grow as a medical college that admitted men too. From women’s school to CMS Medical College, Vellore, one of the premier institutions in South Asia, is the story that follows.

A medical education through struggle

With the Schell Hospital firmly rooted but lacking doctors, Dr Ida, pondering over the fact that in 1910, that India had only one doctor for 10,000 persons, and very few of them women, decided it was up to her to start a medical college. At the annual Kodaikanal Medical Missionaries’ Conference that year, she recommended they all get together and grow a Union (of all Protestant denominations) Medical College from her hospital. The idea was pooh-poohed, half-heartedly discussed the next year, advocated as a women’s medical college in 1912. In 1913 they resolved that the college should be started in Vellore, with Dr. Ida as Principal and chief fund-raiser. She set to it with a will.

A medical education through struggle

By 1916 she had, dreaming of the future, acquired 200 acres of land just south of Vellore town. And she began drawing up plans for the college. But in 1918 ,she ran into one of the many roadblocks she was to face apart from the paucity of funds. The Madras Medical Department told her it couldn’t be a college as it was not affiliated to a university; it would have to be a medical school offering a four-year course for a Licentiate of Medical Practice (LMP). The Department’s head, Col Bryson, told her you have no money, no buildings, no staff and you are unlikely to get any Indian women as students, but added that if she could get at least six students, she could go ahead.

She got 69 respondent to her brochure sent to schools and chose 17 of whom three dropped out. And four years later, when Bryson thought none would pass the final exam, Ebbie, Krupamma, Jessielet, Lizzie, Navamani, Lucy, Dhanam, Elizabeth, Cecilia, Sophie, Thai, Kanagam, Anna and Saramma, all 14, not only passed but four got first classes – quite a contrast to the men’s results, making it the leading medical school in the Presidency. The girls had been taught in rented houses, Dr. Ida’s own bungalow, in the hospital and, for Science subjects, in neighbouring Voorhees College.

But still Dr Ida’s dream was to develop the School into a college for an MBBS degree. In anticipation of that she started building on College Hill and the first buildings of the college-to-be were opened in 1932. The college became even more of a necessity when the LMP courses were brought to a close by Government in 1938. Then began the struggle and the pleading to get the University of Madras to recognise the school as a college. It provisionally did so in 1941 and classes got underway the next year. Nine years later, permanent affiliation to the University was granted, Dr Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar playing a major role in this. Dr Robert Cochrane (Miscellany, March 19) became first principal in 1943, and mandated to make it a full fledged college.

Meanwhile another struggle had been going on for long, mainly fought in US. The Vellore institution functioned under the auspices of the Union Missionary Medical College Committee that had been set up as the first group to examine Dr Ida’s proposal in 1910. The Committee, which had agreed to the school being for women only, now insisted the college be co-educational. Dr Ida finally agreed, but in the US the donors, mainly women, fought against it saying they had supported a cause that had been only for the uplift of women; co-education would go against the founding principles. But eventually the Union Committee proved too strong and it was agreed in December 1942 that the College would be co-educational. The first male students entered it in 1946-47 and Christian Medical College, Vellore was born.

Another Western music maestro

I don’t know whether there is a connection, but your item on Handel Manuel (Miscellany, April 30) reminded me of another Indian I had heard of, who made a name for himself in the world of Western music, writes R Chandrasekar. I wonder whether Suvi Raj Grubb and Manuel were in any way connected.

I too hadn’t heard of Suvi Raj, but from what I’m told it would appear they would have been contemporaries till Grubb left for England in 1953. The Grubb name sounds like that of someone coming from the same southern districts as Manuel. They both went to Madras Christian College. And they both worked at AIR Madras, Grubb (1917-1999) from 1939 to 1953 starting as a librarian and leaving as a producer.

In England he freelanced with the BBC and joined the Philharmonia Chorus where he met Walter Legge, producer and founder of EMI, and in 1960 became his assistant. When Legge resigned in 1964, Grubb became EMI’s “most important classical music producer for the next 20 years”. and I’m told that he “discovered” Barrenboim and helped make a good pianist — a great and renowned one — as well as a conductor.

What I do know is that in more recent times there has been another Grubb in Madras who has conducted the Madras Musical Association choir. But Dr Samuel Grubb with a low bass voice, is better known as being one of the members of the well-known GATT Quintet. The others in the group are Dr Kalyan Subrahmanyam, James Davids , Allan Sathyadev and Dr Ravi Santhosham. Starting as a quartet till Santhosham joined them, they’ve been singing together from the 1970s, not only in India but overseas as well, including the Sydney Olympics. Now scattered around the world, they try to get together to sing in Madras once a year.

I wonder what the connection between Suvi Raj Grubb and Dr Samuel Grubb is. I’m sure there must be one beyond music.

The chronicler of Madras that is Chennai tells stories of people, places, and events from the years gone by, and sometimes from today

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Printable version | Aug 5, 2020 5:33:24 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/history-and-culture/madras-miscellany-a-medical-education-through-struggle/article24143750.ece

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