Muthulakshmi was the first woman doctor in India. She had earlier been advised not to appear for the very difficult M.B and C.M. course but she had prevailed and shocked everyone by getting the 100 per cent result in surgery and most of the merit medals and prizes of that year. This was at a time when some professors did not even allow women to sit in their class. They would ask junior lecturers to take classes for girls separately.
She later became active in the social arena and was the prime mover behind the legislation that abolished the system of dedicating young girls to temples (devadasi) and played a role in raising the minimum marriage age for women.
She founded the Cancer Institute (WIA) in Madras and Avvai Home, the first institute in Madras to admit and educate poor and destitute girls with no caste bias.