To her contemporaries in Boston of the 1870s, Dr. Susan Dimock (1847-75) was well known as a strong, selfless pioneer in American medicine — one of the first group of female physicians to provide the unique professional health care needed by women, and one of the most respected and beloved surgeons, male or female, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Born and raised in the slave-holding South, she escaped from the ravages of Civil War, fled North during wartime, connected with Dr. Marie Zakrzewska at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, studied medicine at the University of Zurich, and returned to Boston to become a leader in American health care, where she molded America’s first professional training school for nurses.
Back in 1995, when I was writing history columns for the Boston Globe, I discovered the story of Dr. Dimock, the namesake of the Dimock Center in Roxbury. In the wake of my published article, I helped establish the Dimock Heritage Fund, which fundraised for the recreation of Dimock's badly decaying headstone at Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain. I was obsessed with this project for more than a year, giving lectures and guided tours, then moved on to other ventures.
More than two decades later, I found Susan Dimock’s story on my personal bucket list. No one, it turns out, had ever written her full-length biography. Once accepted as a Visiting and then Resident Scholar at the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University, I immersed myself in researching and writing about her fascinating life. In the process I have waded through scores of books, articles, online resources, and — most importantly — archives and other physical locations around the world, from Zurich, Paris, the Isles of Scilly (Cornwall, U.K.), and coastal North Carolina to Massachusetts towns and cities like Boston, Sterling, Hopkinton, and Northampton.
In the midst of this ongoing project, my Student Scholar Partner, Megan Catalano, discovered images and handwritten notes on a remarkable neck surgery performed by Dr. Dimock in 1873. A poster we made of that surgery, in collaboration with retired surgeon Dr. Jane Petro, won the 2020 historical poster contest sponsored by the American College of Surgeons. The ACS Bulletin then asked the three of us to write a detailed article about that surgery, which appears in their March 2021 issue.
See that article at: