Durgaibai, was married (at the age of 15) when she was a child just like, every other girl in those times , in India. After hearing Gandhiji's sermons, she joined the freedom struggle, took to wearing khadi clothes and selling them in the streets in Kakinada and Rajamundry. She was activiely involved in the "Videshi vastra dahan, Swadeshi vastra apnao" andolan [burn foreign clothes and wear native material movement], a boycott of Clothes manufactured in the foreign (English) mills and promotion of the Khadi (locally woven material).
In her childhood, she did not study much, later she completed her Intermediate [program], BA Honours from Andhra University (Vishakhapatnam). At Vizag, she was dynamic even on the campus. She would even cook for the entire hostel, if the cook was absent for days. She worked with Congress Workers like Bulusu Sambha Murthy, Tanguturi Prakasam, Pandit Nehru, etc., and went to Gandhiji frequently for advice. She achieved great academic excellance too.
At Madras, she started the Chinna Andhra Mahila Sabha, in Mylapore for the betterment of womenkind. She was intrumental in starting Hindi, English, music classes for women. She sought and got, donations from the rich for her cause and made Andhra Mahila sabha a very big institution.
After India got its independance, she was one of the most important people in the Indian Congress Party. While working here, she met Chintamani Deshmukh, her true soul mate, and ICS officer, who later became the Finance Minister in the first Cabinet under Prime Minister Nehru. Deshmukh was a widower. They got married in Delhi about 1954. Later they came to Mumbai, to the house where Deshmukh's younger brother and mother lived.
At that time V.N.Murti was in Mumbai too. Durgabai was V.N.Murti's batchmate from Vishkhapatnam college days.While working at RBI, as a Statistician, he hosted a reception for the newly wed couple in Mumbai. He invited Maharashtrian friends of Deshmukh and the Telugu friends of Durgabai for dinner and hosted the reception to Mumbai in grandeur.
After that they came to Hyderabad, and bought land next to Osmania Univ and built a house and called it Rachana. They were also instrumental in convincing V.N. Murti to buy a plot nearby.In the same neighbourhood, they got the Literacy House built, eminent leaders like Indira Gandhi, Sarojini Devi and M .Venkat Rangaiya came to give lectures at the Literacy House.In Hyderabad , she established and started the Andhramahila sabha, elimenatry school and then went on to build larger institutions like the hospital, and the colleges , which even today run succesfully. It was started with the vision of providing illetrate people of AP an opportunity to learn how to read and write.
The colony was named after her as Durgabai Deshmukh Colony. Durgabai left her husband to join the Congress, later she got him married to another brahmin girl who was more suited to be the home maker that he needed, than Durgabai herself. Soon after the wedding, the girl became a widow. Durgabai then brought Timmaiamma (who is still alive) to Andhramahila sabha and involved her activily for the upliftment of women in Andhra Pradesh.
After she passed away, Shri V.N Murti was appointed the Chairman, and he generated funds and grants for continuing her good work. Forwarding the cause of the women, Shri VN murti started a puppetry cell to use puppetry as a medium to communicate with the help of Ratnamala Nori . The purpose was to spread the message of literacy to villagers and the uneducated population in a familiar medium (puppetry has traditionally been used in India to tell stories). Today the Cell is a self sustaining unit and carries on the good work that was the vision of Durgabai Deshmukh.
She was called 'Veeravanitha', another name for a woman warrior on India and a very apt one for her life and its work.