CONDUCT UNBECOMING A WOMAN by Regina Morantz-Sanchez


Medicine on Trial in Turn-of-the-Century Brooklyn
Email this review


A heavily documented account of a sensational 1890 murder trial and subsequent lawsuit involving a female gynecological surgeon, recounted in academic prose thick enough to thwart all but the most persistent. In 1889, the Brooklyn Eagle ran a series of negative features on 61-year-old Mary Amanda Dixon-Jones, a successful surgeon at the small Woman’s Hospital of Brooklyn. The newspaper charged the doctor with a potpourri of offenses ranging from financial corruption to superfluous surgeries to mayhem in the operating room; a grand jury then indicted her for manslaughter and murder. After a six-day trial, the jury quickly acquitted Dixon-Jones, but when she sued the Eagle for libel, that jury sided with the newspaper, effectively ending her career. Morantz-Sanchez (History/Univ. of Michigan) has excavated the buried details of these trials. She meticulously delineates the background and circumstances: the sociology of Brooklyn, the cruel evolution of surgery on women, the education of female surgeons, the politics of gender in the medical profession, and the growth of investigative journalism. Along the way, she provides some stunning items, including an account of shocking surgical experiments performed without anesthesia in the late 1840s by J. Marion Sims on “volunteer” African-American slave women who suffered from vaginal fistulas. Much of the power of this story dissipates, however, because of Morantz-Sanchez’s congested prose, which employs stodgy academic locutions and fashions paragraphs thick with quotations. Her devitalized prose limits the audience for this work, and her narrative structure also seems designed to dissuade rather than engage: between the brief introduction and the discussion of the trials stand more than 100 dense pages of “context”—nearly half the book. More costive than compelling.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-19-512624-6
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1999


IndieTWO COINS by Sandra Wagner-Wright
by Sandra Wagner-Wright