Durgabai Deshmukh distinguished herself as a fearless freedom fighter and a dedicated social worker. Popularly known as the 'Iron Lady' she was born on July 15, 1909 at Rajahmundry (in Andhra Pradesh) in a middle class family. She did not have access to formal education initially. But it was due to sheer determination to educate herself that she obtained a bachelor's degree from Andhra Pradesh. Later she studied law and began practicing at the Madras High Court. After independence she joined the Supreme Court Bar.
Durgabai's patriotism was recognised in 1930 when the Salt Satyagraha was launched. She, with the help of two other prominent nationalists (A. K. Prakasam and Desodharaka Nageswararao), organised the movement in Madras. She was arrested and imprisoned for her involvement in a movement that had been banned. She continued with her anti-British activities even after her release. In 1946, Durgabai shifted to Delhi. She became a member of the Constituent Assembly and used her potential in framing the constitution. In 1952, Durgabai contested the general elections but failed to win. However, in recognition of her selfless service to the nation she was awarded the Tamrapatra.
Several of her unique achievements were in the field of social work. She realised that the progress of a country was entirely dependent on the emancipation of the masses. It was for this reason that she gave utmost priority to social reconstruction. Because of her concerted efforts, the Andhra Mahila Sabha was set up in 1941 for the welfare of women. Later, several branches of this sabha were opened in different parts of the country.
Durgabai also edited a journal known as Andhra Mahila and inspired women to rebel against meaningless social constraints imposed on them. Comprehending the value and role of education in bringing about social change, she set up the Andhra Education Society. Sri Venkateswara College in the University of Delhi also owes its origin to her. Further, she played a pioneering role in the setting up of the Central Social Welfare Board. She was awarded the Paul Hoffman Award for her contribution to social work. Durgabai Deshmukh died on May 9, 1981.