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13 Incredible Women From Indian History You Should Probably Know About

It has never been easy to be a woman in India, so here’s to the women who made their presence known, despite the hurdles they were born with.

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1. Savitribai Phule — became India's first woman teacher and started India’s first school for girls.

Twitter: @profoliver_

(3 January 1831 – 10 March 1897)

Savitribai Phule was married off at the tender age of nine and sent to Pune. Once settled in her new house, she learned to read and write from her new husband Jyotirao Phule. And she changed the face of education in India forever. After training hard at multiple institutes, she became the first Indian woman to become a teacher, and opened up the first school for girls in India in 1848.

2. Captain Prem Mathur — the first woman pilot in India.

(1910 - 1992)

Even after acquiring her commercial pilot license, Prem Mathur was turned down by eight private airlines. Not because she wasn't good enough, but because they didn't want a woman pilot.

She eventually interviewed at Deccan Airlines, and was asked how she would handle night halts when she would likely have to sleep in close quarters with men. She answered, "You will not regret hiring me."

She became the first woman pilot in India.

3. Justice Anna Chandy — the first female judge in India, and the first woman in India to become a High Court judge.

(1905 – 1996)

Anna Chandy was the first woman in her state of Kerala to get a law degree, and is often cited as a "first generation feminist". She strongly advocated for women’s rights during her time as a barrister. After a prolific career as an advocate, she went on to become a "munsif", making her the first female judge.

Her tenure as a judge was nothing short of exemplary, eventually elevating to the position of district judge. She eventually became the first female judge in an Indian high court — a position she retained for nine years.


4. Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit — the first woman (and first Indian) president of the United Nations General Assembly.

(18 August 1900 – 1 December 1990)

Vijaya Lakshmi was the first Indian woman to hold a cabinet post. She held the post of president of the Indian National Congress twice, and was also India’s ambassador to Russia during the late '40s. She later became the governor of Maharashtra, and is best known for being the first woman president of the UN General Assembly.

5. Sarojini Naidu — the "Nightingale of India."

(13 February 1879 – 2 March 1949)

Sarojini Naidu is one of India's most influential poets and activists. She was the first woman governor of a state and served as the governor of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh for two years. She was also the first Indian woman to become the president of the Indian National Congress, one of India's biggest political parties.

She was the only Indian woman to participate in satyagraha, and was present at the round table conference with Mahatma Gandhi and Madan Mohan Malaviya.

6. Durgabai Deshmukh – fervently fought for women's rights

15 July 1909 - 9 May 1981

After being married off at the age of 8, Durgabai Deshmukh eventually left her husband to work. She began helping with Gandhi's satyagraha activities and participated in various social activities for the betterment of marginalised classes. She particularly focused on women's rights.

7. Anandi Gopal Joshi – the first Indian woman to get a degree in western medicine.

31 March 1865 - 26 February 1887

Despite being married off at the age of nine, Anandi Gopal Joshi managed to fly to the United States and studied to get a medical degree. Unheard of as it was in the 1800s, she became the first Indian woman to secure a degree in western medicine.


8. Asima Chatterjee — the first Indian woman to receive a Doctorate of Science from an Indian university.

(23 September 1917 – 22 November 2006)

Asima Chatterjee was a noted Indian chemist, and a pioneer in the fields of organic chemistry, and phytomedicine.

9. Sucheta Kriplani, the first woman chief minister in India.

(25 June 1908 – 1 December 1974)

Sucheta Kriplani was an active part of the Indian independence movement, and worked closely with Mahatma Gandhi during the partition riots. She participated in the subcommittee that drafted the Indian Constitution and founded the political party All India Mahilla Congress.

She was the first Indian woman to serve as a chief minister of a state, acting as the head of the Uttar Pradesh government from 1963 to 1967.

10. Captain Lakshmi Sahgal — Indian independence revolutionary.

(24 October 1914 - 23 July 2012)

A medical officer by trade, Lakshmi Sahgal is known for her efforts in coming up with the Rani of Jhansi regiment. After gaining a lot of support from women who joined her cause, she affectionately became known as Captain Lakshmi – a reference to her army rank that she held when she became a political prisoner in Burma during World War II.

She was also an officer with the Indian National Army, and the minister of women's affairs in the Azad Hind government.

11. Rani Lakshmibai — led rebellion against the British.

(19 November 1828 – 17 June 1858)

Her name might just ring a bell. She was the famously rebellious queen of the North Indian state Jhansi. She led her own rebellion against the British in the mid 1800s and was revered as a national hero after her death in battle. Even before going to war for the freedom of her subjects, Rani Lakshmibai was a master of archery, horsemanship, and self-defence. The badassery was strong with this one from birth.

12. Kittur Chennamma — led an armed rebellion against the East India Company.

(23 October 1778 – 21 February 1829)

Kittur Chennamma was a rebel queen and an empirical part of the the Indian independence movement. She was best known for her tactical leadership in an armed rebellion against the East India Company. She continued to fight on even when the tide turned against her favour. She was eventually captured, arrested, and died while imprisoned.

13. Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay — social activist and Indian freedom fighter.

(3 April 1903 – 29 October 1988)

After studying in London, Kamaladevi came to India upon hearing about Mahatma Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement. Once here, she immediately took charge of the women’s section and began working for their welfare. She became the first female candidate to run for a legislative seat in India.

She was also a staunch patron of the arts and was instrumental in the preservation of India’s traditional handicrafts industry.

Andre Borges is a social news reporter for BuzzFeed and is based in Mumbai.

Contact Andre Borges at

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