November 05, 2007


Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy
The road from Adyar Signal to Thiruvanmiyur signal (in Chennai) is called Lattice Bridge Road (LB Road); this English name was re-christened as Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy Road long back, but the old English name only prevails now.

Who is this Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy? In the princely state of Pudukkottai there lived Narayanaswami Iyer who married a devadasi by name Chandramma - this marriage created a sensation that time. To this couple, eight children were born out of whom four died as infants. Muthulakshmi was one that survived (born: 30 July 1886). M's sister Nallamuthu, learned English, went on to study in UK, became a Professor in QMC, Chennai, and later its Principal - the first Indian principal of QMC.

Muthulakshmi went to a school in Pudukottai till the age of 13; later she studied at home tutored by teachers. She passed matriculation in the year 1902. She started dreaming about becoming a graduate. Bur her father, with meagre pension could not send her out of Pudukottai and the Men's Only college locally would not admit a girl ! The Maharaja of Pudukottai intervened and he passed an order exempting her - so she joined the Men’s college, the first girl student of the college. At the college, one of her classmates was the great SATYAMURTHY IYER.

Muthulakshmi refused to marry but wanted to continue further studies. An old student of her father suggested that she could study medicine - and in spite of the opposition from her mother, she was brought to Madras by her father in the year 1907 for admission into Madras Medical College. On the very same day her cousin died at Pudukottai of childbirth, which gave her further impetus to pursue medical course.

As there was no hostel those days, Mr. PS Krishnaswami Iyer helped her to get a house next to his, and he and his wife took care of the young Muthulakshmi. This PS Krishnaswami Iyer was the father of Prof K Swaminathan, K Venkataraman, and Dr Sreenivasa Sanjeevi. (Read the most fabulous and most memorable write-up on Prof K Swaminathan, here. ( ) You MUST read this.

Later she met Sarojini Naidu who then took her to Annie Besant. In college she was brilliant, stood first in the University and got the MB & Ch. M degree. In Feb 1913, Dr T Sundara Reddy, the first Indian to get FRCS, heard about her, and they were married in April 1914. It was the famous Dr A Lakshmanaswami Mudaliar who delivered her first child. Her younger sister died of cancer and Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy became determined to do something about to tackle the scourge of cancer. So, when she got a chance to study in UK, she grabbed the chance and went to UK with her husband and children. In June 1926 she attended the International Congress for Women at Paris as the sole Indian Delegate. Later she was elected to Madras Legislative Council unopposed.

When practicing medicine she became involved in the welfare of destitute women. She was instrumental in bringing legislation in the Council against the Child Marriage (later known as Sarda Act). Later in 1929, she got the bill for abolition of Devadasi system. (It was passed as a law only in 1947).

She started AVVAI HOME, a place for destitute women and children, in 1930 at Mylapore; This home was then shifted to Adyar, and called Avvai Ashram. Her husband looked after it till his death in 1943. She resigned from Legislative Council when Mahatma Gandhi was arrested in 1929. She started a journal Stri Dharma. In 1952, she was requested to join the Legislative Council by Shri Rajaji, but she declined it as she was 67 already.

Almost 40 years ago when she saw her younger sister die of Cancer, she decided to do something about it. During the Centenary of Madras Medical College in 1935, she moved a resolution for a separate specialised hospital for Cancer. However it was only in Oct 1952 that she could realise her dream when Pandit Nehru laid the foundation for the first block. It started with a 12-bed hospital on June 18, 1954. It is today a world-renowned institution offering treatment to nearly 80,000 cancer patients every year. (The famous Adyar Cancer Institute, near Madhya Kailash, Adyar.)

She was awarded Padma Bhushan for her services.

Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy passed away in 1968.

My moist-eyed Salutations to this Great Lady.

*** adapted from "Madras Musings", Nov 1-15, 2007.

9 PM on 5th Nov 2007


  1. Muthulakshmi's father Narayanaswamy Ayyar was the grand uncle of Gemini Ganesan, the South Indian actor

    1. Sorry Mr. Annonymous, You are wrong. Muthulakshmi's father was Gemini's grand father

  2. Thank you very much for the info. Ofcourse i was not aware of this.

    SA Narayanan
    June 25, 2010
    12:40 noon

  3. Thanks Mr. Narayanan, for the wonderful article and information on Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. We are greatly indebted to Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy for all her contributions to the TN state, womenfolks, and for founding the Cancer Institute, Adyar. However, as a person, who was associated with the Cancer Institute for some time, I would like to state with immense regret that the Cancer Institute has not attained the "world-renowned institution" acclaim due to the selfish motives, missmanagement, caste politics, and political bias of the people who administered the Institute after Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. The condition of the Institute is similar to any government hospital or GH, other than the fact it is a cancer hospital. But for the selfish motives of a few people, it would have progressed to international status like the Tata Memorial Center, Mumbai. I also feel that this institute should have been renamed as "Dr. Muthulakshmi Cancer Institute" a long ago, as a fitting tribute to the great Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy.

  4. I learnt about two great women today. Cadambi Meenkhsi and Muthulakshmi Reddy. Thanks for your article.