Dr. Ida Sophia Scudder (December 9, 1870 – May 23, 1960) was a third-generation American medical missionary in India of the Reformed Church in America. She dedicated her life to the plight of Indian women and the fight against bubonic plague, cholera and leprosy. In 1918, she started one of Asia’s foremost teaching hospitals, the Christian Medical College & Hospital, Vellore, India.
She was born of Dr. John Scudder Jr. and his wife, Sophia (née Weld), part of a long line of medical missionaries (see Scudders in India). The granddaughter of John Scudder, Sr., as a child in India, she witnessed the famine, poverty and disease in India. She was invited by Dwight Moody to study at his Northfield Seminary in Massachusetts, where she earned a reputation for pranks.
She initially expected to get married and settle down in the United States after seminary, but in 1890 she went back to India to help her father when her mother was ailing at the mission bungalow at Tindivanam. Ida had expressed a resolve not to become a medical missionary, but during that stay, she had the enlightening experience of not being able to help three women in childbirth who died needlessly in one night.
That experience convinced her that God wanted her to become a physician and return to help the women of India. She never married.
She graduated from Cornell Medical College, New York City in 1899, as part of the first class at that school that accepted women as medical students. She then headed back to India, fortified with a $10,000 grant from a Mr. Schell, a Manhattan banker, in memory of his wife. With the money, she started a tiny medical dispensary and clinic for women at Vellore, 75 miles from Madras. Her father died in 1900, soon after she arrived in India. In two years she treated 5,000 patients. She opened the Mary Taber Schell Hospital in 1902.
Ida Scudder realized that she would be foolish to go on alone in her fight to bring better health to South India’s women, so she decided to open a medical school for girls. Skeptical males said she would be lucky to get three applicants; actually she had 151 the first year (1918), and had to turn many away ever since. At first, the Reformed Church in America was the main backer of the Vellore school, but after Dr. Scudder agreed to make it coeducational, it eventually gained the support of 40 missions. Of 242 students today, 95 are men.
In 1928, Mahatma Gandhi visited the medical school. She traveled a number of times to the United States to raise funds for the college and hospital, raising a total in the millions. In 1945, the college was opened to men as well as women. In 2003 the Vellore Christian Medical Center was the largest Christian hospital in the world, with 2000 beds, and its medical school is now one of the premier medical colleges in India.
One day in 1953, aged 82, she was at “Hilltop”, her bungalow at Kodaikanal, and opened a stack of letters and telegrams. Her name is a famous one in India and her letters reached her addressed simply, “Dr. Ida, India.”