Ida Scudder grew up in India as a sixth child and only daughter of missionary parents in the late 1870s. Her father was a doctor in a poor section of the country where frequent famines and epidemics took their toll. Ida decided early on that she did not want to live in India. The smells, the poverty, the diseases all seemed too much, especially after Ida’s family went back to the US on furlough. When her parents went back to India, Ida was left with an aunt and uncle, but when they decided to go to India, too, Ida was sent to a boarding school. Though she felt lonely and abandoned, she became known for her pranks.
She had to withdraw before graduating because her mother was ill and her parents needed her help in India. Ida was determined that she wouldn’t stay longer than necessary. One night someone came to the door seeking medical assistance for his wife, who was in labor and was having trouble. Ida had answered the door and went to send for her father, but the man stopped her. In their culture at that time, a man would not be allowed to attend a woman in labor, not even a doctor. The man asked Ida to come, but she was untrained and couldn’t help. The man turned away. That was hard enough, but the scenario was repeated two more times that night with two different men. Ida learned the next morning that all three women had died during the night. Ida was deeply affected and realized that her plans and dreams were trivial. She told God that if He wanted her to, she would spend the rest of her life in India helping these women.
She returned to the US, but finances were a problem. Medical school at that time would cost about $150 a year, and she only had $10. It had only been about fifty years since the first woman doctor had begun practice, so it was still a new idea to people. Even churches were hesitant, but one Woman’s Auxiliary Board, after hearing about the night that three women died for lack of female help, decided to support Ida. She enrolled in the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, but when Cornell University opened its doors to women medical students, she transferred and graduated from there.
She returned to India with dreams of helping her father in his practice, but his life ended unexpectedly due to cancer. It took a while for people to open up to Ida, but eventually they did. She established what she called roadside clinics to go out to where the people were diagnose and treat them. She eventually became convinced that she needed a school to help train women to be nurses, and then another school to train women doctors. How God provided funds through a Depression and two wars was miraculous.
Ida was active throughout her life. Once when a friend wanted her to take a real vacation to relax, she decided to go hiking through mountains, and loved it. She received many awards for her medical work and initiatives and remained in India until she died in 1960 just before her 9oth birthday.
I had first read of Ida years ago, but I couldn’t remember which book: I think it was probably The Story of Dr. Ida Scudder of Vellore by Dorothy Clarke Wilson, because the church library that I used at that time had other books by Wilson that I had read. I had wanted to talk about her story for my 31 Days of Missionary Stories, but all I could really remember was that one night when the three men came for help, and that Ida had gone on to become a doctor. I wanted to reacquaint myself with her life, so this time I read Ida Scudder: Healing Bodies, Touching Hearts by Janet and Geoff Benge both because it was a shorter book and because it is part of a Christian Heroes Then and Now series for children that I wanted to check out. I’d still like to go back to Wilson’s book some time, but this one is a good resource.
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)