On a visit to India in 1911, King George V announced that the British government would be transferred from Calcutta to Delhi on April 1 the following year. When the then viceroy of India, Baron Charles Hardinge, and his wife Winifred Selina Sturt, Baroness Hardinge of Penshurst, moved to Delhi, she observed that there was no medical college in the city. While men who wanted to pursue medicine went to cities like Agra, Calcutta and Chennai, there were no options for women looking to study medicine.
According to a history journal published for the National Medical Journal of India (NMJI), a publication of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, it was realised that because women students had to be given education in the mixed classes at men’s colleges, “conservative” Indian women of the “right type and class” were not coming forward in sufficient numbers to become medical practitioners.
“Only 89 women were receiving medical education in medical colleges of Madras, Bombay, Calcutta and Lahore at that time. Of these, 73 were Christians and 9 were Parsis or Jews,” states the journal written by Dr N N Mathur, former director of Lady Hardinge Medical College (LHMC).
It was then decided by Lady Hardinge that the capital’s first medical college will be opened in Delhi — and exclusively for women. A 50-acre plot near Shahjahanabad, next to Raisina village, where Rashtrapati Bhawan now stands, was selected for the construction of the hospital.
On March 17, 1914, the foundation stone of the medical college was laid by Lady Hardinge and the college was named Queen Mary College and Hospital after Queen Mary, wife of King George V. The training school for nurses was to be named after Lady Hardinge and the medical college was to be affiliated to a recognised university. “Post the foundation stone ceremony, Lady Hardinge became actively involved in collecting funds for the college from princely states and the public. Maharaja of Jaipur, Maharaja of Patiala, Nizam of Hyderabad, Maharaja of Baroda, and many others made their contributions,” said Dr Mathur.
Rs 1 lakh was spent in building the outpatient department. The architects of the building were Messrs. Begg and Glenn and the construction contract was given to one Sardar Narain Singh. It took almost two years for the construction to finish.
Before the launch, Lady Hardinge passed away on July 11, 1914, and on the suggestion of Queen Mary, the college and the hospital was named after her.
According to the hospital website, the college and hospital was formally opened by Lord Hardinge, the then Viceroy of India, on February 17, 1916, days before his departure from India.
Speaking with The Indian Express, Dr Mathur said that Lord Hardinge had also said later in his memoirs that the opening of Lady Hardinge Medical College and Hospital for women was his most satisfying achievement as the Viceroy. The inaugural function was attended by Maharajas of Gwalior, Bikaner, Patiala, Jhind and Kota, General Baber Shumsher Jung Rana Bahadur of Nepal, the hospital committee and the Viceroy’s staff.
The college was started under the leadership of Dr Kate Platt, first Principal of the college and also handled the internal management and the College Council.
According to Dr Mathur, at the time of inauguration, it was decided to get grants of Rs 1 lakh per annum from the Government of India, Rs 20,000 from the Countess of Dufferin’s fund, and Rs 3,500 from the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir towards recurring expenditure. “The Countess of Dufferin’s fund Council had started an All-India Women’s Medical Service and was providing medical help to women and children of India at that time,” said Dr Mathur.
Initially, the duration of MBBS course covered a period of seven years, including two years of pre-medical intermediate science course. However, the premedical science departments were closed in 1935, thus reducing the course in the college from seven years to five years. In 1960, a rotating internship was introduced for six months.
According to the LHMC website, the MBBS course was reduced from five years to four and a half years in 1969, and along with it a compulsory internship of one year was introduced. The number of admissions to the first year was increased gradually from 16 per year in 1916 to 60 in 1956. In 1961, admissions were increased to 100 and were further raised to 130 in 1970.
Until the 1980s, only women patients were allowed to be checked in the hospital, but later men were allowed too.
The hospital also remained the only medical college till 1958, after which other medical colleges including Maulana Azad Medical College came up.
To implement the Central Educational Institution (Reservation In Admission) Act 2006, LHMC increased undergraduate admissions to 150 in 2008 and 200 now. Since 1950, the college has been affiliated to the University of Delhi. Post-graduate courses were started in 1954 in affiliation with Punjab University and later on with University of Delhi.
According to the NMJI journal, when the college and hospital was launched, the building consisted of three blocks — a central block and two science blocks on either side: “The central block consisted of a large lecture theatre — the Convocation Hall, a library which was there till 1989 when it was shifted to a new building, a museum, offices and rooms for students and professors. This block had the main entrance to the college with a sun-clock at the top. The convocation hall in the central block was once visited by Gandhiji where he addressed students, who had invited him during the Satyagraha movement. The students spun khadi thread with their taklis (spinning wheels) in the hall.”