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.

No comments:

Post a Comment