Women's Activism NYC

Kamala Sohonie

1912 - 1998

By: Asha Kapadia | Date Added:

Kamala Sohonie was born as Kamala Bhagvat on September 14, 1912 in Indore, Madhya Pradesh and passed away on June 28, 1998. Her father and uncle were chemists and alumni of the Indian Institute of Science. Kamala earned her Bachelor’s of Science in Chemistry and Physics from Bombay University. She was the first Indian female to receive a PhD in a science major. She became an Indian pioneer in biochemistry who mostly research nutritional values of Indian’s produce and vitamins. After graduating, she applied for a research fellowship to the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) which was rejected by director and professor C.V. Raman. The director turned her down because he believed females were not intelligent enough to pursue research. As a result, Kamala held a “satyagraha”, a form of nonviolent resistance outside the director’s office. Her protest resulted in her admission under these three conditions: Kamala was not allowed as a regular candidate and was on probation during her first year, she had to work late nights, and should not disrupt the environment which meant not be a distraction to the male researchers. Although Kamala was humiliated, she agreed to these terms and worked on the research of proteins in milk, pulses, and legumes. Her hard work and research influenced the director to accept more female into IISc one year after she finished her Master’s of Science in 1936. Kamala was invited to Cambridge University, England to study plant tissues. Simultaneously, she attended Newnham College to study Biological Natural Sciences Tripos. Her worked on potatoes led her finding the enzyme, “Cytochrome C” which plays an important role in the electron transfers found in plants, humans, and animals cells. She completed her thesis on the matter in fourteen months and by 1939, she earned her PhD. Kamala returned to India after earning her PhD. She became the Professor and Head of the Department of Biochemistry at Lady Hardinge Medical College. Thereafter, she worked at the Nutrition Research Laboratory as Assistant Director, where she focused on the effects of vitamins. After getting married to an actuary, M.V. Sohonie, she became a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the Royal Institute of Science, where she worked on the nutritional values of legumes. Her research focused mainly on the three groups of food items that are consumed by the poor. Kamala eventually became a director but it was delayed due to gender discrimination in her community. Kamala is an inspirational woman as she fought for her education and women’s rights. She was a follower of Gandhi and used nonviolent protesting to be accepted into the research fellowship. She was dedicated to her work and her furthering science paved the road for more women to be allowed in colleges and proved women are equally as capable to men. In addition, her work as a biochemist and studying of plants has further the knowledge of nutrition which will lead to more healthy people and longevity.

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