Mary Putnam-Jacobi, obituary for Susan J. Dimock (1847-1875)

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[It should come as no surprise that women who were rebels in other aspects of life would have connections to the anarchist movement. This was certainly true among the pioneering women physicians in the United States. The following obituary was written by Mary Putnam-Jacobi, who boarded with the Reclus family while studying in Paris, for Susan Dimock, whose medical training was partially supported by the family of William B. Greene. Greene’s daughter Bessie was traveling with Dimock when they both died in the shipwreck of the Schiller in 1875. I’ll be posting more about both women in the future.]187


Sir:—The accompanying article was entrusted to me for publication by Dr. Susan Dimock, just before her departure for Europe in the ill-fated Schiller. I had not yet fulfilled her commission when the news of her death reached us. This news is terrible, not only to Dr. Dimock’s personal friends, but to that still wider circle who had recognized her fine talents, and her great value therefore in the difficult enterprise of hewing out for women an equal place in the medical profession. Dr. Dimock graduated with honors at Zurich after the prescribed four years’ term of study. Her thesis was written on the cases of puerperal fever she had had an opportunity of observing in the wards of a hospital. She has been practicing medicine in Boston a little over two years, but in this short time has already won for herself a deserved reputation among some of the best surgeons in the city. As resident physician at the New England Hospital, she has already performed many important surgical operations. A case of vesico-vaginal fistula was published in your columns some months ago. The brief note that I have again the honor of sending you relates a successful operation on a child, on whom so distinguished a surgeon as Dr. Cabot had already operated in vain. Last fall, while on a visit to Boston, Dr. Dimock showed me the photograph of another hospital patient, from whose neck she had removed a large sarcomatous tumor. The operation had been performed in the presence of the students of the hospital and Dr. Cabot, consulting surgeon. After reading the record of the case, I mentioned a precisely similar operation that I had seen performed by Richet in the Clinique at Paris, and the lecture, in which he described the great difficulties of removing a tumor deeply imbedded in so dangerous a locality. The Professor had seemed not a little proud of his own success in coping with these difficulties, and had taken care that a numerous auditorium should witness his triumph. At this Dr. Dimock laughed, and said, “I was asked why I had issued no invitations, but I had forgotten all about them.” She added, “Indeed I have to little personal ambition to care who sees, when I am once assured my work is well done.” The remark was characteristic of the modesty and simplicity that distinguished the young surgeon. She was as fresh and girlish as if such qualities had never been pronounced by competent authorities to be incompatible with medical attainments. She had indeed a certain flower-like beauty, a softness and elegance of appearance and manner such as in abundantly lacking in the women most eager to denounce surgical accomplishments as outrageously unfeminine. I have wondered whether she did not resemble Angelica Kaufman. Underneath this softness, however, lay a decision of purpose, a Puritan austerity of character, that made itself felt, though unseen. “She ruled her hospital like a little Napoleon,” said a lady who had been there under her care. The ideal steadfastness which is only possible in characters of this kind, was shown to me at my first interview with her, when she came—a girl scarcely out of her teens—to Paris, on her way to Zurich. We urged her to spend a few days in the capital, for the sake of the recreation to which American students usually consider themselves entitled before they settle down to their studies. Miss Dimock alone refused, for the reason, which she gave with the utmost frankness, that she had been obliged to borrow money in order to prosecute her studies, and should not feel justified in spending a cent of it for amusement or sight-seeing. She put forward all amusements for the future, until she should have won her university degree, and should have fulfilled a pledge of hospital service in Boston. Towards this horrible voyage of April, 1875, converged the pleasurable anticipations of nearly seven years. Among all the bright lives that have been engulfed in this dreadful shipwreck, none is more valuable than hers. Perhaps no woman’s life of equal social value has met this tragic fate since the body of Margaret Fuller was washed ashore on the western coast of the Atlantic. For the success of the social enterprise of securing for women a place in the medical profession finally depends upon but one condition, the demonstration, namely, by repeated indubitable practical evidence, of their real fitness for each branch of its work. None are fitted for all, and both the surgical talents and surgical training of Dr. Dimock are certainly, at the present date, exceptional among women. It is on this account that her loss is literally irreparable, for at this moment there seems to be no one to take her place. Many battles have been lost from such a cause. But although ours be ultimately won, we would not, if we could, grieve less loyally for this girl, so brilliant and so gentle, so single of purpose and so wide of aim, whose life has been thus ruthlessly uprooted and thrown upon the waves at the very moment it touched upon fruition.

Mary Putnam-Jacobi