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Ida Sophia Scudder – A doctor, by chance

Updated: Oct 2, 2023

Ida Sophia Scudder was born in Ranipet, Tamil Nadu, India on December 9th, 1870. Her parents, John and Sophia, were American medical missionaries. They were second-generation missionaries, as John’s father (also named John) was also a doctor and missionary in India.

Ida grew up in Tamil Nadu, where she witnessed the beautiful celebrations of life as well as famine, disease and poverty. As a teenager, she was invited to attend a private Christian boarding school in Massachusetts called Northfield, where she earned a reputation for her pranks. After graduation, she planned to get married and settle down in the US – she was determined never to become a third-generation missionary in India. But, God had other plans. In 1890, her mother became ill – and so she travelled to India for a few months to help her father run his clinic and take care of her mother. One night, everything changed. In the middle of the night, a man came running to their home begging for someone to care for his wife, who was struggling in childbirth. Ida was a teenager with no medical training, so she went to fetch her father – but because of the cultural traditions that separated men and women, the man refused to allow another man to treat his wife. His words were something to the effect of “it would be better that she died than be seen by a man”. Ida was mortified that she could do nothing, and threw herself into prayer and wrestling with God about her life and her call. On that same night, two other men came to her parents’ bungalow with the exact same request, and departed with the same response. The next morning, she was horrified to learn that all three mothers and their babies had died – all because there was no female doctor available to them. In that moment, she gave up all thoughts of marriage and a comfortable life. Later, she wrote: “I think that was the first time I saw God face to face, and all the time it seemed that He was calling me into this work.”

Ida Scudder went to study medicine in the United States and returned to India in 1900 to begin her work. With a small gift of $10,000 from a man who wanted to memorialize his deceased wife, she immediately opened a one-bed clinic giving medical assistance to local women who had no other place to go for health care.

By 1902, the 40-bed Mary Taber Schell Memorial Hospital opened, beginning the realization of Ida’s vision – that women should have the same access to quality and compassionate healthcare that men did, regardless of religion or the ability to pay for it.

Dr. Ida Scudder went on to open a medical school for women, which despite male skepticism, received over 150 applications in its first year in 1918. At first, the Reformed Church in America was the main backer of the Vellore school, and after Dr. Scudder agreed to make it coeducational, it eventually gained the support of 40 additional missions. The tiny clinic grew into Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore – one of India’s most prestigious private hospitals and medical schools. CMC now cares for over two million patients and trains one thousand doctors, nurses and other medical professionals each year. Dr. Ida S. Scudder’s legacy continues even today.

A few of Dr. Ida Scudder’s famous quotes are

“First ponder, then dare. Know your facts.

Count the cost. Money is not the important thing.

What you are building is not a medical school. It is the Kingdom of God. Don’t err on the side of being too small.

Only those who can see the invisible can achieve the impossible,”

May God help us to see the invisible and achieve the impossible.

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