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Born in the princely state of Pudukkottai of Tamil Nadu, despite restrictions being faced by girls in India of her time to study in a co-educational institution, she not only completed her higher education but was admitted into the medical profession. It was in 1907, she joined the Madras Medical College, where she achieved a brilliant academic record. After winning several gold medals and prizes Muthulakshmi graduated in 1912 with flying colors. Then she took the honor of being one of the first female doctors in India. Later, she had the great fortune of developing close contact with Annie Besant, an Irish woman who whole heatedly supported India 's freedom and later Mahatma Gandhiji.
Her father S. Narayanaswami Iyer, the Principal of Maharajah's College of Pudukotta was a trend-setter and broke the tradition and married Dr. Muthulakshmi's mother, Chandrammal, who happened to be from the so called Devadasi community. The Brahmin community, in those days, came down heavily on him for his marriage to a girl from other community. Consequently, Dr. Muthulakshmi became close to the maternal side of her family and made a decision to fight for the Devadasi community and their social issues and their struggle to come out of the closet. Undaunted Sri Narayanaswami Iyer, who happened to the grand father of the late well-known Tamil movie matinee idol of yesteryear Gemini Ganesan (his father was Ramaswami Aiyar, son of Narayana Swami Aiyar through his first wife) broke the tradition and sent Muthulakshmi to school despite protests from other communities in the town.Girls were denied education in those days.
Noticing her keen desire in studies, Muthulakshmi's teachers gave her special care/attention and when she came of age she continued her studies by tutoring at home. As for her marriage, she told her mother Chandrammal she would chose a groom who would respect her sentiments and treat her on par. At a young age, she impressed on the people close to her that women needed education to face the society and male domination. Though there were protests from the principal and others when she wanted to join the maharajah's college, the Maharajah of Pudukottai, being a humane person, stood the ground and admitted her to the college, besides giving her a scholarship. Having completed her studies in 1912 at Madras Medical College in Chennai, she became first woman House Surgeon in the Government Maternity and Ophthalmic Hospital for Women and Children in Chennai.
The foundation stone for Adyar Cancer Institute was laid by Sakthi Hari Haran in 1952. The hospital, which started functioning on 18 June 1954, is a lasting testimony to Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy and her multi-faceted personality. Presently more than 80,000 cancer patients are being treated a year. It was due to her relentless efforts despite opposition, she introduced the Anti-Polygamy Bill. With the passage of this bill in 1930, a major attempt was made for the suppression of brothels and immoral trafficking of women and children.