Clara A. Swain (1834-1910) was the first woman M.D. to serve as a missionary for any denomination, working 27 years in Bareilly, India. She was born in New York and joined the Methodist Episcopal Church as a young child. She was a school teacher for several years but developed an interest in medicine. Shortly after her graduation from Philadelphia Woman’s Medical College in 1869, she answered an appeal from the director of a girls’ orphanage of the Methodist Mission in Bairelly for a woman physician, since men were not allowed to attend women there. So many people were without needed medical care that Dr. Swain found herself hard at work from the moment she arrived, even though her medical supplies didn’t show up for another month. In addition to practicing medicine and evangelizing, however, she had to train local women to help assist her with patients. By the end of her first year there, she had treated an estimated 1,300 patients and begun training 17 medical students in classes lasting 2-3 hours a day. Within the next four years, she helped establish the first hospital in India for women and children, the Clara Swain Missionary Hospital. The hospital was built on 42 acres once owned by the Nawab of Rampore, a zealous Muslim who had sworn he would never allow a Christian missionary in his city. But after Dr. Swain and another missionary approached him, he insisted they allow him to donate the property. Dr. Swain wrote of her adventures in letters home, which were published in 1909 in the book A Glimpse of India.
Want to know more?
Free internet archived book on her life (by “Mrs. Robert Hoskins”)
Extracts from some of her letters, also available free online
Palace of Healing: The Story of Dr. Clara Swain is still available