The Legacy of Hilda Lazarus

Article excerpt

"For the members of the Christian community," Brian Stanley has observed, "the independence and partition of India in 1947 simply accentuated the problems inherited from the colonial era of how to affirm and defend their 'Indianness." (1) The problems to which Stanley refers also faced mission-founded educational and medical institutions. Given a deeply rooted tendency in nationalist circles to regard Christian institutions, as well as Christian individuals, as fundamentally "un-Indian," it could not be taken for granted that such institutions would be welcome in the new India. In these circumstances, for India's Christian medical community to have secured Dr. Hilda Lazarus (1890-1978), a nationally recognized medical leader and a deeply committed Christian, as the first Indian to head Christian Medical College and Hospital (CMC), Vellore, was unquestionably a case of obtaining the right person at the right time. Lazarus served at CMC for only seven years, retiring just before the beginning of its "golden years," 1955-70. (2) Yet during her seven-year tenure she played a vital role in ensuring the survival and future success of the institution, which remains today a landmark in the town of Vellore and a center recognized throughout India for compassionate medical expertise. (3) This profile provides information on Lazarus's background and her long career with the Women's Medical Service of the Government of India before focusing on the institutional transitions at Vellore that gave rise to CMC and her years of leadership there.

The name that looms largest in CMC history is that of an American medical missionary, Ida Sophia Scudder. Beginning her celebrated medical work for women in 1900 in her missionary parents' bungalow, Dr. Scudder went on to establish a women's hospital and, in 1918, the Missionary Medical School for Women, the foundation on which CMC was built. Retiring from Vellore in 1946, she remained nearby until her death in 1960, a source of counsel and practical help. Like another remarkable medical missionary connected to the Vellore story, the first full-time secretary of the Christian Medical Association of India (CMAI), Dr. Belle Chone Oliver, Dr. Scudder recognized the gifts that Hilda Lazarus could bring to the cause of Christian medical education in India. When a convergence of nationalist goals and new professional standards led in the late 1930s to a requirement to upgrade medical schools like the one at Vellore, both women were eager to obtain Lazarus's services for what would be India's first fully professional Christian medical college. Other contemporaries in India and the West also recognized Lazarus's gifts and the positive impact of her brief tenure at Vellore. Yet no buildings, wards, or other facilities appear to have been named in her honor, even after her death, when one-third of her estate was left to the college. Nor has her life been the subject of a book-length work. In the absence of such a study, this brief profile will, I hope, suggest something of the importance of her legacy.

Background and Government Medical Service

Hilda Mary Lazarus was born on January 23,1890, into an accomplished family at Visakhapatnam, in southern India. Her grandparents on both sides had converted to Christianity in the early nineteenth century, her maternal grandfather abandoning his Brahmin identity to become an ordained missionary for the London Missionary Society (LMS). Hilda was one of nine surviving children born to Eliza and Daniel Lazarus. Her father, a highly regarded Christian educator and author, ran the oldest high school in the Madras Presidency, an institution founded by the LMS and later administered by the Canadian Baptist Mission. After obtaining a solid education in this school, Hilda Lazarus attended a local college and then, like her brothers, left "Visag" for professional training and a remarkable career. (4)

At the University of Madras Lazarus completed a B. …