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Pandita Ramabai's American Encounter

The Peoples of the United States (1889)

Pandita Ramabai. Translated and edited by Meera Kosambi

Publication Year: 2003

"... [A] rare and remarkable insight into an Indian woman's take on American culture in the 19th century, refracted through her own experiences with British colonialism, Indian nationalism, and Christian culture on no less than three continents.... a fabulous resource for undergraduate teaching." -- Antoinette Burton

In the 1880s, Pandita Ramabai traveled from India to England and then to the U.S., where she spent three years immersed in the milieu of progressive social reform movements of the day. Born into a Brahmin family and widowed while still young, she converted to Christianity while in England. In India, she was an activist for the education of women and the improvement of the status of widows. Abroad, she was iconized as a champion of the "oppressed Hindu woman." The Peoples of the United States is Ramabai's comprehensive description of American life, ranging from government to economy, education to domestic activity. As an account of a Western society by an Indian woman and a feminist, it reverses the established equation of male, Orientalist travel narratives. First published in Marathi in 1889, it is offered here in an elegant and engaging English translation by Meera Kosambi, who also provides a critical introduction and extensive annotations.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. vii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xi

It was a hundred and fifteen years ago that Pandita Ramabai first stepped on American soil. She was so struck by “the marvelous things” she saw there that she immediately embarked on her Marathi book The Peoples of the United States in order to share with her compatriots her newly acquired knowledge...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii

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Introduction: Returning the American Gaze: Situating Pandita Ramabai’s American Encounter

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pp. 1-50

The annual commencement of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania,1 celebrated with customary splendor in March 1886, had a wider resonance than usual. It was to serve as a crucible in which international women’s history was made...

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pp. 53-54

The “United States of America” is a name that would be familiar to many; and many must have seen the map of the country while studying geography. But very few in our country can have any knowledge of the true worth of the United States, the activities...

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1. Voyage from Liverpool to Philadelphia

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pp. 55-61

In January 1885, Doctor Rachel Bodley, Dean of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, wrote me a letter, earnestly inviting me to attend the graduation ceremony in Philadelphia in March 1886, at which Mrs. Anandibai Joshee would receive her medical...

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2. The “Nethermost World,” or Continent of America

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pp. 62-75

Before describing what I saw on my arrival in the United States of America, and what its social conditions are like, it would be necessary to give a brief history of this country. My educated countrymen and -women would probably be acquainted with that extraordinary...

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3. System of Government

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pp. 76-94

The ancient political philosophy of our country specified seven features of a kingdom; namely, Ruler, Minister, Ally, Treasury, Nation, Forts, and Army. Kingdom meant the country under a king’s dominion, and the chief feature of the kingdom was the ruler or king. This has led to the general belief that the nation, the treasury or wealth..

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4. Social Conditions

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pp. 95-104

An exercise given to students in an art school is to seat them all around a person or an object placed in the center, and ask them to sketch that person or object. While doing so, some happen to be sitting in front of the object, some behind, and some at an angle; and they..

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5. Domestic Conditions

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pp. 105-137

Such, on the whole, are the social conditions in the United States. A few words must now be said about the domestic conditions in cities, towns, and villages. All over the world, the housewife is generally regarded as the central figure in the house; but in...

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6. Education and Learning

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pp. 138-153

The independent nation of China is more ancient than all the nations in the five continents of Asia, Europe, Africa, America, and Australia, and has lasted for four thousand years now. The Egyptian, Hellenic, Roman, Indian, and other ancient nations suffered a decline...

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7. Religious Denominations and Charities

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pp. 154-166

In England the denomination known as the Church of England is integrated with the power of the monarchy. The King or Queen of England must belong to this denomination, and all the subjects of that country must bear the expenses of its bishops, etc....

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8. The Condition of Women

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pp. 167-214

As a child, I took great delight, like all other children, in listening to marvelous tales. Who does not enjoy legends like the Mahabharata, the Bhagavata Purana, the Ramayana, the Adbhuta Ramayana, the Jaimini, the Ashvamedha, and other such ancient literary works...

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9. Commerce and Industry

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pp. 215-239

Commerce and industry is a topic worth considering, and stands next in importance after the system of Government and the condition of women in the United States. The importance which the United States has acquired today derives chiefly from its commerce and industries...

Translator’s/Editor’s Notes

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pp. 241-265

Literature Cited

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pp. 267-273


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pp. 275-284

E-ISBN-13: 9780253109651
E-ISBN-10: 0253109655
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253341907

Page Count: 304
Illustrations: 5 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2003