Fantastic History #23: The Future was India–The First Women Doctors in the British Empire

I base a lot of my characters in books on gaming characters. I belong to a crack squad of people who have been role playing with me for nigh unto 25 years, and the characters they run are very interesting. However, sometimes I cannot adapt the characters wholesale, as gaming is an imperfect medium, partly improve, partly hubris. Believe me, no one wants to read about your cool game, no matter how cool it is to you. Further, sometimes characters must be juiced up in order for them to have the drama necessary to participate as a character in a story.

Recently, I wanted to shift one such character, an Indian magician, into a firmer historical background. The character as conceived has some ability in medicine, so I decided to look into the background of Indian women in the 19th century. What I discovered is one of those happy accidents that suddenly made this character not only viable, but cutting edge.

Interesting and unknown to me previously, I discovered that the first women to graduate from medical school in the British empire were two Bengali women: Kadambini Ganguly and Chandramuku Basu. Both women graduated in 1883 from medical school in Calcutta, India.
Ganguly was the daughter of a Brahmo reformer. She studied in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and London before starting her own private practice. The mother of eight children, Ganguly was the ultimate example of a woman balancing professional and personal life. Basu ultimately earned an MA and became the first female administrator of a school in India. While Basu retired early due to ill health, Ganguly remained a stalwart figure for women’s rights in India.

Certainly, with these examples, my fictional character could find a toe hold in medicine at the time, following in Ganguly and Basu’s footsteps. And so Adah Kapoor, a new name for an old character, was well on her way to becoming a practicing doctor, as well as someone who followed in her family’s footsteps as a magician.

And the rest remains to be written. History, however, can be a wonderful, rich gift to the writer.

For more information on Ganguly, check out The Better India.


Cath Schaff-Stump writes speculative fiction for children and adults, everything from humor to horror. She is the author of the Klaereon Scroll series, the most recent of which is The Pawn of Isis, coming in March, 2019. Cath lives and works in Iowa with her husband. During the day, she teaches English to non-native speakers at a local community college. Other recent fiction has been published by Paper Golem Press, Daydreams Dandelion Press, and in The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk. Cath is a co-host on the writing and geek-life fan podcast Unreliable Narrators. You can find her online at Facebook, Goodreads, Amazon, @cathschaffstump,, and

Author: Catherine Schaff-Stump

Catherine Schaff-Stump writes fiction for children and young adults. Her most recent book, The Vessel of Ra, is the first book in the Klaereon Scroll series. She is currently working on its sequel, as well as penning the middle grade adventures of Abigail Rath, monster hunter.