Sunday, September 16, 2012

Susan Dimock, Beaufort County Native

Early Physician


Susan Dimock
Susan Dimock was born in 1847 in Washington, Beaufort County, North Carolina. She was to become the first woman licensed physician from North Carolina and the first female to be accepted as a member of the North Carolina Medical Society.
Susan’s parents were Henry and Mary Melvin Owens Dimock. She grew up in the age of slavery and she was to say later, “I am slow to take an idea; I was always slow: I was eight years old before I perceived the sin of slavery.”[1] While Florence Nightingale was nursing English soldiers injured in the Crimean War (1854-1856), Susan was “borrowing anatomy books from the family doctor and accompanying him on his calls.”[2]

Susan’s mother, Mary, was the daughter of the Beaufort County, NC sheriff. Henry Dimock was a native of Maine who moved to Washington, NC and taught school, studied law and became the editor of the North State Whig. After he married Mary, the couple purchased the Lafayette Hotel in Washington, NC. The family lived in the hotel and Mary taught Susan and managed the hotel. When she later attended the Washington Academy, Latin was her favorite subject.
By the age of twelve, Susan had made up her mind to become a doctor. Dr. Solomon S. Satchwell, who was a founding member of the N.C. Medical Society, lived across the street from the hotel and “… often allowed her (Susan) to join him on house calls and actively encouraged her interest in medicine.”[3] A story was told about her when she was about 14 that, at a resort, she was absorbed in a book for quite a long time. Someone asked, “What interesting story has Susie got?” An old physician, standing by, replied: “It is one of my medical books, which I have lent her, and one of the driest, too.” [4]

But the Civil War brought changes for the Dimocks. The Union troops took over the town of Washington early in the war. “Some of the (Union) officers made their headquarters at the Lafayette Hotel and the Dimocks were greatly criticized by loyal Confederates for being friendly with them. But, after all, Dimock himself was a Yankee.”[5] Henry Dimock died not long after the Union troops occupied Washington. “A year and a half after his death, the Lafayette was burned to the ground in the holocaust that destroyed most of the town.”[6]
Susan and her mother moved to Massachusetts where Susan attended school briefly and read every medical book she could find. At the age of 17, Susan accepted a teaching job in Hopkinton, Mass. She was fortunate to become friends with Bessie Greene and it was through Bessie and her father that she met Dr. Marie Zakrzewska, who had established the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston. Dr. Zak accepted her as a student at her hospital, although she could not earn a medical degree there.

New England Hospital for Woomen and Children
(Courtesy of the Library of Congress)

In 1868, with much encouragement from Dr. Zak and after she was rejected by Harvard Medical School, Susan enrolled in the University of Zurich where there was less hostility to women as doctors. As her first semester began, she wrote the following:  “Sunday finds me safely through with last week’s herculean labors. You know I had a hundred formalities to go through with, and no German to speak of. Looking back upon it, I do not see how I managed it; however, it is plain sailing now, and I have nothing to do except to listen to lectures, study hard, and learn German, &c. Oh, it is so nice to get here, at a word, what I have been begging for in Boston for three years! I have every medical advantage that I can desire. I told the professor of anatomy, for instance, that I wanted a great deal of dissecting; and he immediately bowed, and said so kindly, ‘You shall have it; I only desire you shall tell me what you prefer.’ And so it is with everything. I only have to go through the necessary formalities, and pay the fees, and I find that in every respect I have equal advantages with the young men; and then I find also the warmth and protection and feeling of interest which a young man finds in the university. And it is delightful; the professors are all very kind to me.” [7]

Susan Dimock was awarded her degree in 1871. She was the first American woman to earn her degree in Zurich. After further studies and work in Europe, she returned to the New England Hospital in 1872.
North Carolina Historical Marker in Washington, NC
Dr. Dimock began her practice with a three year appointment as resident physician at Dr. Zak’s hospital, working in obstetrics and gynecology. Although her salary was only $300 per year, she had enormous responsibilities. She handled the day-to-day management of the hospital. She saw patients in the wards and in the dispensary, taking a special interest caring for poor and unwed mothers. This interest must have influenced two of her friends who began the charity, Invisible Institution, to help poor mothers take care of their babies.

Dr. Dimock also did most of the surgery at the Hospital for Women and Children. Her success at surgery enabled her to build a large private practice. As if her hospital duties and her patients were not enough, she also managed to carry out an extensive restructuring of the hospital’s nursing school, establishing the first graded nursing school in this country. All of this was accomplished in just three years! In spite of the long hours and hard work, Susan Dimock wrote, in 1875, “I have not one wish unfulfilled.”
At the end of her three year term, she was offered a second term, which she accepted. However, she requested a five month leave to return to Europe during the summer of 1875.

Dr. Dimock and her friends, Bessie Greene and Caroline Crane, left New York on April 27, 1875 on the steamer Schiller. On the night of May 7 the ship struck a reef and wrecked off the coast of England. The three friends from America were lost, along more than 200 others. Susan Dimock’s body was recovered and returned to Boston where she was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery. Susan Dimock was only 28 years old.

1.      The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal. Vol. XCII. January 7, 1874. No. 1.

2.      Sandra L. Singer, Adventures Abroad: North American Women at German-Speaking Universities, 1959.

3.       Lillian Freeman Clark, “The Story of an Invisible Institution,” The Outlook: Vol. 84, Sept. 1, 1906:Page 983 [Google Book]

4.       Mass Moments:

7.       American Association for the History of Nursing:

9.       North Carolina Historical Marker Program:



[1]Lillian Freeman Clark, “The Story of an Invisible Institution,” The Outlook: Vol. 84, Sept. 1, 1906:Page 983 [Google Book]
[2] Mass Moments
[3] N. C. Highway Marker Program Essay, Marker B-14, Susan Dimock, in Washington, NC.
[4] Lillian Freeman Clark, “The Story of an Invisible Institution,” The Outlook: Vol. 84, Sept. 1, 1906:Page 983.
[5] NCPedia:
[6] Ibid
[7] Sandra L. Singer, Adventures Abroad: North American Women at German-Speaking Universities, 1959.

Friday, September 7, 2012


Claudius Peter Cary, fencing master, who was endeavouring to get out of the enemies way, died with fatigue in the Dismal Swamp.

[Virginia Gazette. Williamsburg: Printed by Dixon & Nicholson. May7 22, 1779]
NOTE: The Dismal Swamp is on the border of North Carolina and Virginia. In North Carolina, it includes parts of Gates, Pasquotank, and Camden Counties.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

            Across the twilight of the ages past
            A spectral figure moves vague, undefined;
            And where it goes a shade comes o’er the mind,
            As‘t were some picture overcast.

IN the early part of the seventeenth century, that is, about the year 1615, or 1620, the Indian hunters who lived on Roanoke Island were greatly excited by seeing a milk-white doe among the herd of deer that were then commonly found on the island.

It attracted the attention of the hunters because it was the most beautiful one of all the herd, because it was the fleetest, and because the most skillful marksmen had never been able to kill it with an arrow. Okisco, a noted hunter, who lived among the Chawanooke tribe, was sent for, and he drew his bow upon the beautiful white doe, but he never could do her harm.
She came to be well known to the Indian hunters of Roanoke Island, and was often found on the situation of the old city of Raleigh, apart from the herd of deer, with her sad face toward the east. Again and again she was hunted, but all the arrows aimed at her life fell harmless beside her. She bounded over the sand-hills with the swiftness of the winds and always turned in the direction of Croatan.

Hunting parties of Indians were made up to entrap her by stationing themselves along the tracks of her flight, which had become known to the hunters by her always taking the same course. But all their efforts were without avail. The swift white doe seemed to have a charmed life, or to be under the protection of some Divine power. Everyone now talked of the white doe, and everyone had his own opinion about her. The braves, the squaws, and the papooses talked of the milk-white doe. Some had fears of evil from the strange apparition. Some thought she was the omen of good, and some thought it was the spirit of some sad departed.

Sometimes she would be seen on the high grounds of Croatan, sometimes in the swamps of Durant’s Island, sometimes upon the Cranberry bogs of East Lake, often on Roanoke Island near Raleigh City, and sometimes, though rarely, on the sands of Kill Devil Hills; sometimes alone, always sad and beautiful.

The news of the white doe spread far and wide, and old Wingina determined to call a council of chiefs to determine what to do.

Okisco, chief of the Chawanookes; Kuskatenew and Kilkokanwan, of the Yeopems, and others, attended the council. The all came with their attendants, all armed with their war weapons, the bow and arrow. They determined to have a grand hunt in the early Indian summer time, and without delay. In November, when the leaves had fallen and the earth was carpeted with its brown and russet covering of forest leaves, all the friendly chiefs came to Roanoke Island to join the fierce Wingina in his appointed hunt for the milk-white doe, and each with his chosen weapon of the chase.

The chiefs, after their feast, prepared by the wife of Wingina, agreed that they should station themselves along the course of the white doe when pursued by the hunters, and either exhaust her in the chase, or slay her with their deadly arrows. Wingina, the most powerful of all, took his place at Raleigh City, where the doe always passed and always stopped.

Old Granganimeo, the brother of Wingina, took his stand at Croatan Sound, where she crossed to Roanoke Island.

Okisco took his stand upon the goodly land of Pomonik, in the low grounds of Durant’s Island.

Kind old Manteo went up into the shaky land Wocokon, among the prairies and cranberry bogs of East Lake.
Minatonon, the fierce chief who made his home at Sequaton, took his stand at Jockey’s Ridge, by the sea, in the land of the Coristooks.

Wanchese took his stand at Kill Devil, in the country of Secotan.
Kill Devil Hills
Photo by David Martinek

They had all brought with them their best bows and arrows, and also their chosen archers. But the bow of Wanchese differed from the others. When, long ago, he had gone over the sea to England, the great Queen had given him an arrow-head made of solid silver, like the stone arrow-head that Armadas carried to Sir Walter Raleigh with his other Indian curiosities. It was made by her most expert workers in silver, and she told him it would kill the bearer of a charmed life that no other arrow could wound. Wanchese carried this with his other weapons, and determined to test its power upon the swift white doe.

Manteo started the doe in the shaky land of Wocokon. She started unharmed at the twang of the bow-string. She sped with the swiftness of the north wind’s breath. Through the tangle wood of Wocokon, through the bogs and morasses of Pomonik, across the highlands of Croatan, on, on, she went, and the twang of the bowstring was the harmless music of her flying bounds. She plunged into the billows of Croatan Sound. She reached the sand hills of Roanoke, leaving the Indian hunters far behind her. As she came to the island, old Granganimeo drew his bow and sped his harmless arrow. She stood upon the top of the old fort at Raleigh City, sniffed the breeze and looked sadly over the sea. Wingina carefully and steadily drew upon her panting side the deadly arrow. All in vain. She bounded into Roanoke Sound and across to the sea. Menatonon was at Jockey’s Ridge, but his arrow, too, was harmless. The panting white doe found time at the Fresh Ponds to slake her thirst, and the, turning to the sea that she seemed to love with an unnatural affection, sped onward, until she reached the steep hills of Kill Devil. There, alas! was her doom. Wanchese, taking aim with his silver arrow, aimed at her heart, let fly the fated bowstring, and the sad and beautiful milk-white doe sprang into the air with the fatal arrow in her heart, and fell to the ground.

Croatan National Forest

 Wanchese ran to the spot and found the victim writhing in the death agony. She lifted her dying, soft eyes to the red man and uttered her last sound, “Virginia Dare.” Under her throat the words “Virginia Dare” were plainly penciled in dark hair, and on her back was penciled in brown hair the name “Croatan.”

 [Source: Richard Benbury Creecy Grandfather’s Tales of North Carolina History. Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards and Broughton Printers. 1901, pages 15-18. ]