Back in 1995, when I was writing history columns for the Boston Globe, I discovered the story of Susan Dimock, the pioneering 19th century surgeon and 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 moving on to other ventures, including researching and writing a history and guidebook for the cemetery.
Twenty years later, my friend Mary Smoyer asked me to deliver a lecture on Dr. Dimock for the JP Historical Society, on behalf of the Boston Women's Heritage Trail, with whom I had worked for many years. I declined, saying that I hadn't even thought about Susan Dimock for two decades, and it was so long ago that my ancient lectures existed only as color slides. Mary countered with an irresistible argument: "You're having knee replacement surgery in February. You are going to be stuck in bed for a long time. What better things do you have to do than work on a new Susan Dimock lecture?" I caved and created a PowerPoint, which I delivered to the JP Historical Society in 2015. There was a snowstorm that night. I was on crutches and heavy-duty pain drugs. And there was a standing-room-only crowd, who not only loved the lecture, but wanted to "buy the book." I told them there was no book. Not by anyone else. And certainly not by me.
Fast forward to later that year, when I applied to the Women's Studies Research Center at Brandeis to become a Visiting Scholar. My proposed project: to research and write Susan Dimock's first full length biography. It's now four years later. I have traveled around the world to research and write this book, which is now 80% done. And in the midst of this, my friend, Dr. Jane Petro of Jamaica Plain, convinced me to enter a segment of Dr. Dimock's story into a poster contest sponsored by the American College of Surgeons.
We did it, and I knew I was over my head in the world of medicine. And though there were more than 180 entries, we actually won!