The Delhi Female Medical Mission (DFMM) was a medical mission in Delhi, India that was founded in the mid-19th century by an Indian-born Englishwoman named Priscilla Winter. The organization started as a dispensary along the Yamuna River in Delhi, but over time developed into a mission, which was then established as St. Stephen’s Hospital for Women and Children, a hospital that remains in operation today.
Priscilla Winter (née Sandys) was born in Calcutta, India to two Anglican missionaries. Winter spent the majority of her childhood in England, but returned to Calcutta in 1858 at the age of sixteen to work for the Union Society for the Propagation of Gospel (USPG). She was sent to Calcutta to spread the word of the Gospel amongst the Indian women. This work was known as zenana work, where the missionaries went to the home of native women in order to convert them to Christianity. While working on Zenana missions, Winter wrote that, “Women in India get no relief from suffering… [because] the medicine man takes them in hand and his remedies are the crudest.” Winter attempted to mediate the medical issues in Calcutta by “distributing simple remedies to all classes of Hindu women,” who she described as “confine[d] to the purdah.” While in Calcutta, Winter realized that the local women’s only time out of the purdah was when they went to the river to pray, a concept that she would later use to advance her distribution of medicine to females. In 1863, Winter married Reverend Robert Winter, the head of the USPG operation in Delhi, and moved to Delhi with him. In Delhi, Winter began medical work on the Yamuna river with a “box” of medical samples. Winter was not a trained doctor or nurse but rather described herself as a person responding to the needs of women in the area. In 1864, cholera epidemics broke out in Delhi. During this time, Winter was able to observe the dramatic effect that illness had on the population of Delhi, specifically the toll it took on women.