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Scudder, Ida (1870–1960)

Scudder, Ida (1870–1960)

American physician and missionary who founded the Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore,

South India. Born Ida Sophia Scudder on December 9, 1870, in Ranipet, Madras Presidency, India; died in Kodaikanal, India, on May 24, 1960; sixth child and only daughter of John Scudder II (a medical missionary of the Reformed Church and himself the son of a medical missionary in India) and Sophia Weld Scudder (a missionary of the Reformed Church); attended Northfield Seminary in Massachusetts; Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania and Cornell Medical College; never married; lived with Gertrude Dodd, from 1916 until Dodd's death in 1944.

Ida Scudder was born in 1870, in Ranipet, Madras Presidency, India. In 1878, her family returned briefly to the United States following a cholera epidemic and settled in Creston, Nebraska, for four years. Her father John Scudder II returned to India in 1882, and when her mother Sophia Weld Scudder followed in 1883 Ida went to Chicago to live with her uncle, the Reverend Henry Martyn Scudder. In 1887, when her uncle went as a missionary to Japan, Scudder enrolled at Dwight Moody's Northfield Seminary.

Scudder journeyed to the family's new post of Tindivanam, India, in 1890. Although she had originally rebelled against the family business of missionary work, her return to India to help her ill mother began a process of acceptance and inspiration. During one traumatic night of her stay, Scudder's life changed dramatically. Three women were about to give birth, but their husbands would not allow a male to attend them. So instead of seeking the help of the more experienced John Scudder, they enlisted Ida, despite her protests concerning her lack of training. All three women died of the kinds of complications that Ida knew could have been prevented by a physician. She vowed then to get a medical degree, so that she could work in India as a much-needed female physician.

Returning to America, she began study at the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia in 1895. She transferred to Cornell Medical College for her final year, receiving her M.D. in 1899. In 1900, she went back to Vellore and began a lifelong service as a medical missionary. Scudder's father, with whom she hoped to work as an intern, died within five months of her return. Instead of despairing about the case load she faced and the prejudices and distrust of those who doubted her ability as a woman doctor, she remained in Vellore and began training others to help her in the work. In 1902, she opened the Mary Taber Schell Hospital, which also provided a central locale for much-needed medical care and for the training of nurses. While continuing to make medical rounds in the outlying rural areas, Scudder would remain the only surgeon at the hospital for 22 years.

In 1909, the hospital's nurses-training program was expanded into a regular school of nursing. In 1916, she was joined in India by her friend Gertrude Dodd , an unofficial, self-supporting missionary of the Reformed Church. Two years later, with Dodd's assistance, Scudder founded the Union Mission Medical School for Women in Vellore, which provided formal and certified medical education. Dodd continued to give generously, supporting students at the medical college where she also served as bursar and registrar. In 1938, when new governmental regulations threatened to close the school unless it obtained a university affiliation, Scudder began the process of obtaining certification, traveling to the United States in 1941 in search of funding. She returned to India following Gertrude Dodd's death in Florida in 1944. In 1950, the Christian Medical College (as it was renamed) became officially affiliated with the University of Madras, thereby protecting it from closure and providing continued educational opportunities for women and men. With this accomplishment, Scudder retired but remained near Vellore. She died, age 90, on May 24, 1960, at her home near Kodaikanal.

Scudder's medical work in India was particularly significant in that it provided educational opportunities for women and increased the accessibility of medical care to women in the area. Although Scudder's efforts to save the medical college from closure included converting it into a coeducational institution, causing condemnation from Lucy Peabody and other supporters of women's education, her work remains significant. By providing for the education of locals in medical techniques, she assured the continuance of health care in the area around Vellore and released it from reliance on itinerant doctors and the presence of missionaries from foreign countries.


Sicherman, Barbara, and Carol Hurd Green, eds. Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1980.

Wilson, Dorothy Clarke. Dr. Ida: The Story of Dr. Ida Scudder of Vellore. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1959.

suggested reading:

Jeffery, Mary Pauline. Ida S. Scudder of Vellore: The Life Story of Ida Sophia Scudder. Mysore City, India: Wesley Press, 1951.


Scudder's papers are held by the Schlesinger Library of Radcliffe College, including a transcription of an oral history project by the Medical College of Pennsylvania on women in medicine; some additional papers are located at the Christian Medical College and Hospital in Vellore, India.

Amanda Carson Banks , Vanderbilt Divinity School, Nashville, Tennessee

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