Muthulakshmi Reddi was born in the princely state of Pudukottai of Tamil Nadu. In spite of various constraints faced by girls in India of her time, she could complete her higher education, and was admitted into medical profession. In 1907, she joined the Madras Medical College, where she achieved a brilliant academic record. With several gold medals and prizes to her credit, Muthulakshmi graduated in 1912 to become one of the first woman doctors in India. Soon thereafter, she came under the influence of Annie Besant, and then of Mahatma Gandhi.
During her college years, Muthulakshmi met Sarojini Naidu and began to attend women's meetings. She found women who shared her personal concerns and addressed them in terms of women's rights. The two great personalities who influenced her life were Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Annie Besant. They persuaded her to devote herself for the upliftment of women and children.
During her address at the Centenary celebration of the Madras Medical College in 1935, Dr Muthulakshmi Reddy first expressed her desire to start a hospital for cancer patients. With the overwhelming support of like-minded people, the foundation stone for Adyar Cancer Institute Jawaharlal Nehru in 1952. The hospital which started functioning on June 18, 1954, was only the second of its kind in India and the first in south India. It is today a world-renowned institution offering treatment to nearly 80,000 cancer patients every year.
Dr. Reddy was actively involved with several orphanage homes and women’s welfare organisations, and initiated measures to improve the medical facilities given to slum dwellers. In 1930, she founded Avvai Home, a home for destitute women and orphans at Besant Avenue, Adyar. As an MLC, she introduced a scheme of free education for girls up to class eight. Dr. Reddy was awarded the Padma Bhushan by the President of India in 1956. Her two outstanding monumental gifts for humanity remain the Avvai Home and the Cancer Institute.