Cover image for Conduct unbecoming a woman : medicine on trial in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn
Conduct unbecoming a woman : medicine on trial in turn-of-the-century Brooklyn
Morantz-Sanchez, Regina Markell.
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xi, 292 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Reading Level:
1640 Lexile.
Geographic Term:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
RG67.U6 M67 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In the spring of 1889, a burgeoning Brooklyn 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 totwo trials--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. Conduct Unbecoming a Woman is mesmerizing as an intricately crafted suspense novel. Jars of specimens and surgicalmannequins 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 seamstresses to 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 gynecological surgery, but also the rapidly changing role of women in society. Indeed, thecourtroom 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-century women. 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.

Author Notes

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 AmericanMedicine. She lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Mary Dixon Jones began reading medicine in 1845. The 17-year-old went on to obtain a college degree and eventually two medical degrees. She established the first women's hospital in Brooklyn when it was still a separate city. In 1889 the Brooklyn Eagle published a sensational series pillorying her as a knife-mad surgeon and an unwomanly physician. In 1892 a jury declared her innocent of the manslaughter of one of her patients, but in 1893 she lost a libel suit against the Eagle. Morantz-Sanchez's thoughtfully written, thoroughly documented book deals with much more than the bare bones of Dixon Jones' story. She examines Dixon Jones as a woman who did not bow down to society's expectations of gender roles, scrutinizes the attitudes of the public and of medical men and women toward such a woman, and inspects Brooklyn's self-representation as a family-oriented, pure city in contrast to sinful, crime-ridden New York. This is the third excellent book on women in medicine from Morantz-Sanchez. --William Beatty

Table of Contents

1 Saving the City from Corruption: The Eagle Launches a Campaign
2 A City Comes of Age
3 Becoming a Surgeon
4 Gynecology Becomes a Specialty
5 Gynecology Constructs the Female Body and a Woman Doctor Responds
6 ""The Lured, the Illiterate, the Credulous and the Self-Defenseless"": Mary Dixon Jones and Her Patients
7 Prologue: Gynecology on Trial for Manslaughter
8 Spectacle in Brooklyn
9 Meanings
Appendix: Bibliography of Dr. Mary Dixon Jones's Medical Writings