"It's been a wonderful four years, hasn't it, Franny?" Ida Scudder strolled the grounds of Massachusetts Seminary for Girls with her friend. “I'm twenty years old now, and I'm going to find a rich, handsome man to marry me.”
“Aren't you expected to go back to India and be a missionary like all the other Scudders?” Franny asked.
“I hate India!” Ida said, stopping to face her friend. “I spent seven years of my childhood there.
America is my home, now—no one grabbing at me and begging for food every time I walk down the street. Babies aren't left in fields to die. India? No, thank you.”
That night a message came from India from her father.
Ida stared at the telegram in her hand.
She had not seen her mother in five years or her father in eight.
Mother needed her?
She would go.
Upon Ida's arrival in India, her mother began to slowly recover.
One evening, Ida was writing letters to friends in America—and disgustedly brushing off the ants that fell from the roof on to her paper.
There came a knock at the door.
It was a Muslim man who lived in the community.
"Salaam, Madam. May Allah grant you peace.”
“Yes. What do you need?” Ida asked.
“My wife is in labour.” he said. “She is very young, just fourteen. The midwife says she will die. You must come.”
“I will get my father at once.” Ida said.
“I cannot bring another male into my house to examine my wife! You do not know what you are saying. It must be you. ” He looked at Ida accusingly.
"I know nothing about medicine or delivering babies. My father is the doctor.” Ida's impatience was mounting. “Listen. Do you want her to die?”
“If she dies, then it is the will of Allah. Forgive me for disturbing this household.” He bowed and left her.
I hate this crazy, backwards place. Ida seethed. I cannot wait to get back to America.
No sooner had Ida returned to her room than another knock came. She ran back to the door.
It was a man—dressed in the traditional Hindu clothing.
“Yes? What is it that you need?” Ida asked.
“There is much trouble upon my house.” he wailed.“My wife,— it is many long hours now—the baby,— it does not come.”
Ida stood staring at him in disbelief.
The man dropped to his knees and grabbed onto the hem of Ida's skirt. “Please hurry or my wife will die.”
“Get up!” Ida snapped, feeling panicked. "I cannot help you. I have no medical training. My father, he is a skilled doctor....” but as she spoke, his eyes clouded over and he backed away, stumbling and frightened. “It would be better for her to be dead than to be defiled in such a way.” he said, turning and running into the night.
“Wait! Please, come back.” Ida called.
Some time later, unbelievably, another knock came with yet another man, a Brahman, seeking, but in the end, rejecting help for his wife who was having childbirth complications.
What kind of night from hell was this? What kind of blindness could so completely take hold of men that they would be willing to sacrifice their wives on the altar of religious dogma? It was unthinkable.
Ida didn't sleep more than a few minutes that night. Tossing fitfully, she relived the evening over and over in her mind. Was there something she could have said or done differently? She could not forget those suffering women who had no voice and no advocate. She spent the night in anguished prayer, wrestling with God, feeling pulled in every direction. Yes, these women needed help, but how could she give up her own dreams for a life in America?
The next morning when Ida heard the loud, steady beating of the tom-toms signaling death in the village, she knew in her heart that all three women had died. She knew, and all her resistance collapsed.
Ida looked at her hands. She lifted them up, offering them willingly.
“God,” she prayed, tears of surrender streaming down her face. “Take these hands. Take them and use them to help the women of India.”
And God did.
The events of that night --the three men and the deaths of the women in childbirth, --are true. Ida referred to that night of anguished prayer as “The night I met God face to face, for the first time.”
Ida went back to the USA to study medicine and returned to India in 1900, a trained physician. Two years later, she opened The Vellore Christian Medical College & Hospital and other rural clinics, which today serve 80,000 inpatients and 1.2 million outpatients a year.
Ida Scudder served India for 60 years.
She never married.
Side-note: In four generations, the Scudder family sent forty-two missionaries to India and other fields.
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