Margaret Lin Xavier was born into a Catholic family of Portuguese descent in Bangkok in 1898 and would go down in the history of Thailand, or Siam as it was then known, by becoming the country’s first female doctor. Now, 122 years after her birth, the pioneering physician has been brought to Thai internet users’ attention — as a Google Doodle. A Google Doodle is a temporary alteration of Google’s trademark logo on the landing page of its search engine and serves to commemorate important holidays, celebrate key historical events and showcase notable historical figures. On May 29, Xavier was portrayed as a cartoon of a female doctor holding a newborn over Google’s logo, which was remade into a Thai-style pattern. The Catholic woman, who is better known in Thailand by her local name Lin Srivisarnvaja, blazed a trail for other Thai women in the medical profession in a then strictly patriarchal society by earning a medical degree abroad and practicing as a physician in Bangkok.
A daughter of prominent diplomat Celestino Xavier, also known by his Thai name Phraya Phipat Kosa, Xavier studied at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Penang, Malaysia, before she went on to earn a medical degree at the London School of Medicine for Women. She was 26 when she graduated. After returning to Bangkok in 1924, Xavier began to work as an obstetrician for the Thai Red Cross and the prestigious Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok. “She soon received permission from the Thai Red Cross to open her own private clinic with her sister, Chan Xavier, a pharmacist who was also trained in England,” Google explains. “[She] provided services in obstetrics and gynecology, and she treated for free many of those who couldn’t afford her care.” Xavier’s regular patients included sex workers and other marginalized women. She died in 1932 at just 34 from encephalitis and influenza. “Years ahead of her time, the medical pioneer opened her own clinic in the 1920s to provide quality care to those in need,” Google observes. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Thai women have followed in the trailblazing Catholic’s footsteps. As of last December, more than 61,000 doctors in Thailand were women, who account for 45 percent of physicians, according to the Medical Council of Thailand. “Lin Srivisarnvaja has been an inspiration to generations of Thai women who want to study and practice medicine,” a female medical student commented. “She inspired us to follow our dreams and showed us how to be compassionate,” she added.
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