Mary Poonen Lukose

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Mary Poonen Lukose
Mary Poonen Lukose.svg
A vector drawing of Mary Poonen Lukose
Born(1886-08-02)2 August 1886
Died2 October 1976(1976-10-02) (aged 90)
OccupationGynecologist, obstetrician
Known forMedical service
Spouse(s)K. K. Lukose
ChildrenGracie Lukose, K. P. Lukose
Parent(s)T. E. Poonen
AwardsPadma Shri

Mary Poonen Lukose was an Indian gynecologist, obstetrician and the first female Surgeon General in India.[1] She was the founder of a Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Nagarcoil and the X-Ray and Radium Institute, Thiruvananthapuram, served as the head of the Health Department in the Princely State of Travancore and was the first woman legislator of the state.[1] The Government of India awarded her the fourth highest Indian civilian award of Padma Shri in 1975.[2]


Mary Lukose, née Mary Poonen, was born to a rich family as the only child[3] on 2 August 1886[4] in Aymanam—a small village later made famous by being the setting of the novel The God of Small Things[5] in the princely state of Travancore (modern day Kerala), in the British Indian Empire.[6] Her father, T. E. Poonen, was a medical doctor, the first medical graduate in Travancore and the Royal Physician of Travancore state.[1][4] Her mother had health issues due to which Mary was brought up by British governesses. She completed her schooling at Holy Angel's Convent High School, Thiruvananthapuram and topped the matriculation examination. However, she was denied admission for science subjects at the Maharajas College, Thiruvananthapuram (present day University College Thiruvananthapuram) for being a woman and had to pursue studies in history on which she graduated (BA) in 1909 as the only female student of the college and the first woman graduate of Madras University which Maharajas College was affiliated to.[1] As Indian universities did not offer admission to women for medicine, she moved to London and secured MBBS from the London University,[6] the first woman from what would later become Kerala to graduate in medicine.[7] She continued in the UK to obtain MRCOG (gynecology and obstetrics) from Rotunda Hospital, Dublin and underwent advanced training in pediatrics at the Great Ormond Street Hospital.[1] Later she worked in various hospitals in the UK and simultaneously pursued music studies to pass the London Music Examination.[1]

Mary returned to India in 1916, the year her father died,[3] took up the post of an obstetrician at the Women and Children Hospital, Thycaud in Thiruvananthapuram[7] and also worked as the superintendent of the hospital, replacing a westerner who had returned to her native place after marriage.[6] A year later, she married Kunnukuzhiyil Kurivilla Lukose (K. K. Lukose),[8] a lawyer who would later become a judge of the High Court of Travancore.[6] During her tenure at Thycaud Hospital, she initiated a midwifery training program for the children of local midwives in order to win over their support and is known to have delivered her first born at the hospital.[6] In 1922 she was nominated to the legislative assembly of Travancore,[9] known as Sree Chitra State Council, thus becoming the first woman legislator in the state.[6] Two years later, she was promoted as the Acting Surgeon General of the state of Travancore, making her the first woman to be appointed as the surgeon general in India.[6][10] She continued at the hospital till 1938 during which time she was nominated to the state assembly continuously till 1937.[6] In 1938, she became the Surgeon General, in charge of 32 government hospitals, 40 government dispensaries and 20 private institutions.[3] She is reported to have been the first woman to be appointed as the surgeon general in the world;[1][4][6][11] the first woman surgeon general in the US was appointed only in 1990.[3]

Mary was one of the founders of the Thiruvananthapuram chapter of the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA) and became its founder president in 1918,[12] a position she retained till 1968.[6] She served as the Chief Commissioner of the Girl Guides in India[1][3] and was also a founder member of the Indian Medical Association and the Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), which started as Obstetric and Gynaecological Society.[6] As the surgeon general of the state, she is reported to have founded the Tuberculosis Sanatorium in Nagarcoil, one of the first sanatoriums in India, which later grew to become the Kanyakumari Government Medical College.[13] She also founded the X-Ray and Radium Institute in Thiruvananthapuram.[6]

Mary and Lukose had two children, the eldest, Gracie, a medical doctor and a former assistant professor at Lady Hardinge Medical College, New Delhi[14] and the youngest, K. P. Lukose, former consul general, permanent representative of India to the United Nations and the Indian ambassador to Bulgaria.[6][4] Her husband died in 1947 and her two children also preceded her in death. She died on 2 October 1976 at the age of 90.[6] She was a recipient of the title, Vaidyasasthrakusala, from Chithira Thirunal Balarama Varma, the last Maharaja of Travancore.[1] The Government of India awarded her the civilian honour of Padma Shri in 1975.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Mary Poonen Lukose (1886-1976)". Stree Shakti. 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Padma Shri" (PDF). Padma Shri. 2015. Archived from the original (PDF) on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e K.S. Mohindra, PhD (2015). "Dr. Mary Poonen Lukose". Hektoen International - A Journal of Medical Humanities. VII (2). ISSN 2155-3017.
  4. ^ a b c d "The Doctors behind the Poonen Road, Secretariate, Trivandrum". Doctors' Hangout. 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  5. ^ "God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy". Scribbles of Soul. 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Nair, K. Rajasekharan (July 2002). "A Pioneer Medicine-Dr. Mary Poonen Lukose (1886-1976)". Samyukta - A Journal of Women's Studies. II (2): 117–121.
  7. ^ a b "The Changing Social Conception of Old Age" (PDF). Shodhganga. 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  8. ^ "Dr. Mary Poonen Lukose". Genie. 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  9. ^ J. Devika (2005). Her-Self: Gender and Early Writings of Malayalee Women. Popular Prakashan. p. 181. ISBN 9788185604749.
  10. ^ "Evolution of Modern Medicine in Kerala". National Medical Journal of India. 2003. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  11. ^ "Then and Now". Blog. Pazhayathu. 20 May 2014. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  12. ^ "YWCA of Trivandrum". YWCA. 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  13. ^ "Welcome to Our Institution". 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.
  14. ^ "Lukose, Grace Mary (1918 - 1954)". Lives Online. 2015. Retrieved 15 June 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Nair, K. Rajasekharan (July 2002). "A Pioneer Medicine-Dr. Mary Poonen Lukose (1886-1976)". Samyukta - A Journal of Women's Studies. II (2): 117–121.