Saving India Through its Women

Seán Lang tells of the Dufferin Fund, an aristocratic initiative supported by Queen Victoria to improve medical conditions, particularly in childbirth, for Indian women in the late 19th century.

In 1935, the Silver Jubilee Year of her husband’s reign, Queen Mary wrote a letter of greetings to the elderly Countess of Dufferin and Ava, who was herself marking a Golden Jubilee that year. Fifty years earlier, when her husband was Viceroy of India, Lady Dufferin had set up the National Association for the Supply of Female Medical Aid to the Women of India, generally known as the Dufferin Fund. As its name suggested, the Fund, which was still operating, supplied female doctors and midwives to work in women’s hospitals in India. However, the Fund was always about more than just medicine; it played a significant political role at a highly delicate stage in the development of British rule in India. Queen Mary was fully aware of this. In her letter, she spoke of the Fund as ‘an enduring monument’ which ‘may perhaps play a not unimportant part in binding together British and Indian interests under new conditions in the years that are to come.’

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