Conduct Unbecoming a Woman: Medicine on Trial in Turn-of-the-Century Brooklyn

Paperback | September 15, 2000

byRegina Morantz-Sanchez

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In the spring of 1889, Brooklyn's premier newspaper, the Daily Eagle, printed a series of articles that detailed a history of midnight hearses and botched operations performed by a scalpel-eager female surgeon named Dr. Mary Dixon-Jones. The ensuing avalanche of public outrage gave rise to twotrials--one for manslaughter and one for libel--that became a late nineteenth-century sensation. Vividly recreating both trials, Regina Morantz-Sanchez provides a marvelous historical whodunit, inviting readers to sift through the evidence and evaluate the witnesses. This intricately crafted and mesmerizing piece of history reads like a suspense novel which skillfully examines masculineand feminine ideals in the late 19th century. Jars of specimens and surgical mannequins became common spectacles in the courtroom, and the roughly 300 witnesses that testified represented a fascinating social cross-section of the city's inhabitants, from humble immigrant craftsmen and seamstressesto some of New York and Brooklyn's most prestigious citizens and physicians. Like many legal extravaganzas of our own time, the Mary Dixon-Jones trials highlighted broader social issues in America. It unmasked apprehension about not only the medical and social implications of radical gynecologicalsurgery, but also the rapidly changing role of women in society. Indeed, the courtroom provided a perfect forum for airing public doubts concerning the reputation of one "unruly" woman doctor whose life-threatening procedures offered an alternative to the chronic, debilitating pain of 19th-centurywomen. Clearly a extraordinary event in 1892, the cases disappeared from the historical record only a few years later. Conduct Unbecoming a Woman brilliantly reconstructs both the Dixon-Jones trials and the historic panorama that was 1890s Brooklyn.

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In the spring of 1889, Brooklyn's premier newspaper, the Daily Eagle, printed a series of articles that detailed a history of midnight hearses and botched operations performed by a scalpel-eager female surgeon named Dr. Mary Dixon-Jones. The ensuing avalanche of public outrage gave rise to twotrials--one for manslaughter and one for li...

Regina Morantz-Sanchez is Professor of History at the University of Michigan. Widely published in the areas of women's history, gender, sexuality, and medicine, she is the author of In Her Own Words: Oral Histories of Women Physicians and Sympathy and Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

other books by Regina Morantz-Sanchez

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Format:PaperbackPublished:September 15, 2000Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195139283

ISBN - 13:9780195139280

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Table of Contents

AcknowledgmentsIntroduction1. Saving the City from Corruption: The Eagle Launches a Campaign2. A City Comes of Age3. Becoming a Surgeon4. Gynecology Becomes a Specialty5. Gynecology Constructs the Female Body and a Woman Doctor Responds6. "The Lured, the Illiterate, the Credulous and the Self-Defenseless": Mary Dixon Jones and Her Patients7. Prologue: Gynecology on Trial for Manslaughter8. Spectacle in Brooklyn9. MeaningsAppendix: Bibliography of Dr. Mary Dixon Jones's Medical WritingsNotesIndex

Editorial Reviews

"Morantz-Sanchez offers a rich serving of human drama, courtroom contestation, clashing medical therapeutics, and the negotiations of class. In this book, she shows once again how fertile courtroom trials can be for teasing out the murmuring cultural currents of a given place and time. If thistrial never achieved the place in American memory won by that other Brooklyn spectacle, the Beecher-Tilton trial, it has, happily, been restored to us with its manifold meanings by Morantz-Sanchez's cogent analysis." -- Cynthia Russet, PhD, Yale University, Journal of the History of Medicine, Vol56, Jan 2001