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Conduct Unbecoming a Woman: Medicine on Trial in Turn-of-the-Century Brooklyn / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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 two trialsone for manslaughter and one for libelthat 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 masculine and 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 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, 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-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.
Read an Excerpt
Saving the City
The Eagle Launches
On February 14, 1889, Ida Hunt, the twenty-six-year-old wife of a printer, checked herself into the Woman's Hospital of Brooklyn for the removal of a tumor. According to the account published in the Brooklyn Eagle, Ida was robust and physically fit. L.P. Grover, a physician who had treated her since childhood, found her "beautiful and healthy" when he had examined her six months before. Though he admitted to noting a sensitive and "slightly irritated" organ "on the left side," he assured her that she suffered a minor reflex irritation that would readily yield to bromides. When Ida asked whether she needed an operation, he "strongly advised against it."
But Ida was dissatisfied with Grover's diagnosis. Plagued with headaches, she visited several local physicians and T. Gaillard Thomas, the world-renowned gynecologist at the Woman's Hospital in New York City, before settling on Mary Dixon Jones. Countering the advice of the male practitioners, Dixon Jones diagnosed the presence of a worrisome tissue mass and cautioned that the growth could burst without warning, killing her or driving her insane. Though her skeptical husband begged her to reconsider, Ida trusted Dixon Jones, insisting that the doctor was "a very nice lady and a good Christian and very pious, that she always prayed before she performed an operation, and that she had ... saved the wife of an eminent banker from the same trouble." Ida seemed delighted to share a physician with the wife of a prominentbusinessman, and was much reassured by the doctor's claim to have performed eighty-five laparotomies without losing a patient. After nine days' preparatory in the hospital, Ida Hunt submitted to surgery.
Participants disagree as to what happened next. The operation went badly, and peritonitis ensued. Several days later, Dixon Jones told James Hunt that the cancerous tumor had burst during "one of the most terrible operations I have ever performed." Hunt understood that his wife was dying and called Ida's father, a bricklayer and veteran fireman, to the hospital. Together they sat by her bedside for hours, leaving late in the evening. The next morning, according the Eagle, Hunt received a request by telephone to hurry to the hospital. When he arrived, Dixon Jones asked him to take Ida home. Her case was hopeless, the doctor explained, and she needed familiar surroundings. But a little later, when Hunt brought the carriage to fetch his wife, Dixon Jones announced that the patient had rallied, and refused to let her leave. Then, at eleven that evening, there was a knock at their door, waking both Hunt and Ida's parents, the DeVoes. On Dixon Jones's behalf, Mary, the hospital nurse, urged a rapid return to the hospital. Ida must be brought home immediately.
The anxious family complied. A storm was gathering. Bitter cold, it was already snowing hard, with accumulation so far of half an inch. At two o'clock in the morning, the Eagle reported, the dying Ida was gently laid into a carriage, sandwiched between Dixon Jones and her mother, and resting on blankets and pillows provided, not by the doctor, but by her father. Friction ensued between Dixon Jones and Ida's parents. When Mrs. DeVoe complained about taking her daughter out in the snow, Dixon Jones allegedly dismissed the idea, insisting that "the ride will do her good." The father told the Eagle that it later dawned on him that Dixon Jones wanted the girl moved so that death would occur "at some other place than the hospital." The doctor deliberately waited until night-time, he asserted, "so that the neighbors would not see."
Once settled in her own bed, Ida denounced Dixon Jones and Jones's son Charles, her surgical assistant, calling them "murderers and hypocrites." She claimed that at the very last moment she had changed her mind about having the procedure. "I fought as hard as I could and screamed," an expiring Ida told her mother. But Mrs. Jones administered the ether by force, insisting, "You've gone this far and now you've got to go through with it." When Ida regained consciousness after the surgery, she heard someone admit that "something had gone wrong." Distraught until the very end, Ida Hunt expired in her mother's arms at 11:30 the next morning.
Only days later, Mr. DeVoe visited Dixon Jones, seeking certification of the cause of death on Ida's insurance papers. The doctor responded by presenting a bill for her medical services, promising to sign the insurance forms as soon as it was paid. DeVoe asked to see the tumor Dixon Jones had removed from his daughter's body. "Oh, why didn't you come before?" she answered. "We've just shipped it to Paris." "I told a doctor that," DeVoe informed the Eagle's reporter, "and he laughed and said they had tumors enough of their own in Paris without importing any. I don't believe Ida ever had a tumor," he added. Even more curious, the undertaker and embalmer judged Ida's body to be in a suspicious state. Apparently, the stitches from the abdominal incision had ripped open and the body cavity was stuffed with ether-soaked rags "covered with loose flaps of skin left by the operation."
The high drama of Ida's last ride, accomplished stealthily in the darkest of night in near blizzard conditions, became for the Brooklyn Eagle a central marker in a larger narrative crafted with great care and sensitivity, particularly to readers hungry for good copy. Ida is portrayed as an innocent young victim in the prime of life, beloved by a loyal and caring family, whose unhappy fate was sealed by a sadistic and knife-happy woman surgeon. Later in this chapter, we will meet Ida Hunt again in a very different scenario from the one described by the Eagle in 1889. We will learn that she had been chronically ill since early in her marriage, and that the real cause of her poor health may well have been the venereal disease she contracted from her significantly older husband. Later still in this book, we will entertain the idea that Hunt was not simply the victim of an overly ambitious female physician, but a decisive patient who could speak casually and without embarrassment about her illness, while actively seeking aid from referral networks of laywomen and a variety of physicians. For the Eagle, however, she symbolized the innocent young woman betrayed, abandoned, and forced to die under the cruelest and most shocking conditions.
Appearing on May 3, the tale of "Ida's Last Ride" marked a crucial moment of escalation in the series featuring Dr. Mary Dixon Jones and the Woman's Hospital of Brooklyn launched by the newspaper on April 24, 1889. Composed of twenty-four pieces, some of them quite lengthy, the exposé ran almost daily, tantalizing readers from the last week in April through the middle of June. Beginning innocently enough, with a promise to investigate the hospital, the articles rose gradually to a resounding crescendo, displaying all the trappings of a sensationalist campaign.
It was a campaign, however, that was contoured to fit the newspaper's specific image and needs. Though originally a Democratic party organ, the Brooklyn Eagle had emerged by the 1880s as an independent newspaper, projecting the stable values of the business-oriented, Protestant bourgeoisie. Staid and respectable compared with its counterparts across the river like the New York World, a shining exemplar of the new "yellow journalism," the paper identified strongly with the city of Brooklyn. The Eagle's editors, sensitive to the high profits New York rivals earned from melodrama, were not above initiating an occasional assault of their own, particularly when it served to convince readers of the Eagle's vaunted role as a "public service." The paper chose its targets carefully, however, wary of offending its "sacred cows"primarily the city's businessmen and the professionally prominent. In the case of Dixon Jones, the newspaper's accusations contained a variety of interesting motifs, including charges of the misuse of public funds to finance what was allegedly a private hospital. Posing as a pious woman with an unblemished record of medical service, Dixon Jones was shown to have misrepresented the institution to key members of the philanthropic elite. Adding insult to injury, the Eagle also intimated that the doctor operated indiscriminately on patients, endangering countless lives and deliberately misinforming clients of their true physical condition. The newspaper cited numerous examples of unprofessional conduct, implying that the respectable medical community suspected her of charlatanism. Our story begins, then, with an examination of each of these arrogations in detail.
DUPING THE ARISTOCRACY AND BILKING PUBLIC COFFERS
Accusations of deception and fraud were launched in the Eagle's very long first feature, which began by describing a lavish benefit parlor concert attended by the wealthy inhabitants of Brooklyn's "Heights and Hill" districts. The affair was held at the home of Joseph Knapp, one of the city's several millionaires. The Eagle pictured in detail the "rare and costly" flowers, "the finest singers and instrumentalists that money could buy," and a banquet of such culinary perfection that "Lucullus" himself would have been forced to "acknowledge that he was a barbarian." It was, the Eagle opined, "as highly satisfactory a gathering as ever was collected in the name of charity." Yet a closer examination of the festivities revealed that few of the guests knew much about the institution they had been brought together to support. Even the hostess could not offer adequate details, and was obliged to summon to her side Mary Dixon Jones, described by the Eagle as a "stout, voluble, middle aged lady, with a captivating smile and a very plausible and insinuating way of talking" to elaborate to the curious about the Woman's Hospital of Brooklyn. With great gusto she entered into an explanation, calling the hospital "the most wonderful ... in the world," citing its "extraordinary record of results in treatment" and its "grand work" in the cause of charity. But though the rich and well born of Brooklyn were content, the Eagle clearly was not. Its reporter observed caustically that guests went away "as wise in regard to the institution they were helping as the host himself," who, he added pointedly, "did not know where it was situated." As more of the Woman's Hospital's story was unfolded, many of Brooklyn's first men and women faced increasing embarrassment. Though the newspaper would eventually let Brooklyn's rich and well born off the hook, its first article highlighted the gullibility of Brooklyn's elite.
Chronicling the newspaper's efforts to sort through layers of misconception in preparation for this opening salvo, the article's next paragraph turned to reporter Sidney Reid's interview with Mary Dixon Jones and her son Charles at their home a few weeks after the Knapp concert. Hoping to glean an accurate history of the institution in an unrehearsed conversation with the Joneses, Reid found himself obligated instead to listen to a prepared statement detailing their charity, self-sacrifice, courage, and perseverance.
Her hospital, Dixon Jones explained, was founded in 1881, when she was unable to secure a bed for an ailing patient in the renowned Women's Hospital in New York City. Believing that Brooklyn's good women also needed "such a refuge," she took the lead in establishing it. A number of prominent individuals joined in supporting the work, but she took pains to point out that the institution's first report featured her "earnest and self-sacrificing labor in the cause." There were, of course, other staunch advocates, including the institution's corresponding secretary, Mrs. E. E. Baldwin, the wife of Dr. S. L. Baldwin, recording secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Foreign Missionary Society. Indeed, several of the "best" men and women of Brooklyn were forthcoming with financial aid. Judge George G. Reynolds, a city judge and former state supreme court justice, drew up the papers of incorporation. Thomas Pearsall, another well-known lawyer, secured the deed for the institution's first dispensary on Tillary Street, and donated money from time to time. Additional contributors were John Gibb, a successful businessman active in club circles, philanthropist C. N. Hoaglund, whose special interest in medical research led him to endow Brooklyn's first pathology laboratory, future mayor David M. Boody, and Wall Street stockbrokers S. V. White and Arthur B. Claflin. Also interested were Mrs. Seth Low, whose husband had become Brooklyn's first reform mayor in 1881, her wealthy father-in-law, A. A. Low, and philanthropists George I. Seney, P.C. Cornell, A. S. Barnes, and D.W. McWilliams. Like Mrs. Low, several prominent wives were also active in the cause. Indeed, the list of Board of Trustees and the Advisory Board members first presented to Reid, which, according to the Eagle, even included the president of the Eagle Association, Colonel Hester, and the Eagle's publisher, St. Clair McKelway, read like a Who's Who of Brooklyn's socially prominent. Skeptics had to agree that the assemblage was impressive.
But Reid was not yet prepared to let the matter drop, partly because the Eagle had received some curious mail after the Knapp concert. Dixon Jones herself had written the newspaper a note, asking for a feature highlighting the hospital's charitable activities. "Pardon this tresspass," it began:
Some two years ago you told me you would gladly allow something in the Eagle for the Woman's Hospital of Brooklyn. The faculty and Board of Trustees want to report some of the good work of the hospital, as it is right that it should, as many good people and the city help support the hospital. Of course, the Woman's Hospital of Brooklyn, like all special hospitals, is not large, but has done some most successful surgical work. No hospital has better statistics. If you will kindly send a reporter to my house tomorrow at any hour I will give him some facts from the records of the hospital. Will you please drop me a line stating the hour.
Dr. Mary A. Dixon Jones
Initially inclined to comply, the Eagle became troubled when a second, anonymous communication arrived the same day, accusing the hospital and Dixon Jones of fraud. Addressed to the editor and signed only with the title "M.D.," this letter-writer called for an investigation. "I have reason to believe that it is a private institution obtaining public money," it read. "It gets $2000 from the city this year and I think that if you looked the thing up you would find it was not entitled to a cent."
Thus, already on his guard when the interview with the Joneses began, Reid was further put off by the prepared statement, which was accompanied by disparaging remarks about the competition, the Women's Homeopathic Hospital of Brooklyn. In addition, mother and son denigrated the Hospital Saturday and Sunday Association, a charitable clearinghouse that had recently refused to grant money to their institution. Reid also puzzled over an odd slip of Charles's, who had playfully voiced relief that his hospital had "no unmanageable lady managers" with which to contend.
After his interview with the Joneses, the reporter visited the office of Paul C. Grening, a real estate developer and hotelier who was listed as the Woman's Hospital president. Reid noted that, while waiting for Grening to accede to the interview, Dixon Jones appeared, visibly shaken, and met with Grening for at least ten minutes before reemerging into the outer office. There she questioned Reid about what he intended to print. Explaining that he couldn't reveal such information in advance, she left with a plea to "be sure you say something nice."
Reid pursued a hard line of questioning with Grening, who acknowledged his connection with the institution since its establishment and confirmed the list of incorporators and trustees that the Joneses had already supplied. Grening compared his interest in the cause to that of "many other good people," adding that he thought it to be "a good thing." When Grening asked why the Eagle was pursuing an inquiry, Reid mentioned the allegation that the institution was a private one accepting public money. Vigorously denying the charge, Grening reminded Reid that the hospital functioned like all other institutions of its kind, and was "entirely open and above board." When pressed, however, he was compelled to add that only he, Charles, and Mary Dixon Jones were in attendance at most trustees' meetings. He admitted further that Howard A. Smith, vice president of the Bedford Bank and cited as treasurer of the Woman's Hospital, had actually resigned some time ago. "But," he added, "I wouldn't say anything about that if I were you. Leave him in as treasurer." Further questioning revealed that it was Grening himself who transacted the hospital's business, signing the checks, paying the bills, and handling "all funds." Conceding to the reporter that he was dependent on the Joneses for information regarding the amounts of contributions, reports of the number of patients, and accounts of operations, he added, "I have the utmost confidence in them."
So ended the narrative portion of the Eagle's first article. Summarizing its conclusions and throwing down the gauntlet to the Doctors Jones and their supporters, the newspaper offered readers fifteen troubling "facts" it would elaborate on in the next several weeks. The Eagle would prove that hospital trustees did not authorize Dixon Jones to make any statement on their behalf, although Dixon Jones claimed that her prepared remarks gave the history of the hospital as "the trustees understand it." Moreover, the newspaper alleged, other members of the board did not even know that they were trustees until the reporter informed them of the use of their names. Most did not recall ever being summoned to a meeting and had never seen the hospital. What they did remember was that Dixon Jones had visited them from time to time, asking for money. Grening, in contrast, knew only what the Joneses told him. In addition, the Eagle would show that in actuality there was not one Woman's Hospital of Brooklyn, but two. The first was indeed incorporated in 1881, as Dixon Jones attested. The second's incorporation had not been legally recorded until May 7, 1885! Though Dixon Jones was connected with both institutions, conflict with the first hospital's Board of Lady Managers in February 1883 led to its dispanding soon afterward and the sale of the institution's buildings to the Nervous Hospital in the spring of 1884. The Eagle claimed that when the second Woman's Hospital was organized the following fall, Dixon Jones took the early history of the first institution and made it the history of the second. Dixon Jones thus misused people's good names, and obscured the institution's origins to Reid. The present "Woman's Hospital," run by mother and son, was "getting $2000 under Chapter 666, Laws of 1887, and $866 from the Excise Fund, and is constantly reaching out for more." Readers were left to ponder the implications of this "very strange state of affairs."
In several more articles published over the course of the next week, the Eagle continued to highlight the twin themes of misrepresentation and mismanagement. Reid and a team of reporters interviewed most of the men who were cited as hospital trustees. In addition to Brooklyn's District Attorney James A. Ridgway, they spoke with Augustus Van Wyck, a prominent lawyer elected a city court justice in 1884, D. W. McWilliams, former president of the YMCA and the superintendent of Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Sunday School, lawyers Foster H. Backus and George G. Reynolds, Brooklyn's ex-mayor, the Honorable Samuel Booth, and Howard A. Smith, vice president of the Bedford Bank, whose name was listed in the Hospital's annual report as treasurer of the institution. The latter, a friend of Paul Grening's, had taken over the hospital's books the previous summer only as a favor to Grening, who was obliged to sort out the affairs of a hotel he owned in Saratoga Springs. Smith attended one meeting of the Board of Trustees and, along with "the best in the city," admitted to heartily enjoying the Knapp concert. Though almost all the other men were present at the concert as well, they were nevertheless "astonished" to hear that their names had been listed as incorporators or trustees of the hospital. Ridgway, who would eventually prosecute a manslaughter indictment against Dixon Jones, had given her a $50 contribution, but knew little about the institution, save that some "splendid names" were linked to it. Like Ridgway, Van Wyck vaguely recalled a visit from Dixon Jones "some years ago" asking for permission to use his name. He had declined, but generally responded favorably when contributions to the hospital were solicited. The others recounted a similar story.
Using words like "humbug," while accusing the city of being "completely fooled," the newspaper compared Dixon Jones's manipulations to a "confidence game" that would have given the notorious confidence man "Hungry Joe" pause. Neither the hospital's trustees nor members of its advisory board apparently knew of their office. "Mrs. Jones ... took a handful of names and juggled them to suit herself and each man thought that all the other men mentioned knew all about the matter.... "Those solicited assumed that their patronage was imitated by "some of the best men in the city." "How Mrs. Jones must have smiled," one feature concluded.
Reiterating its charge that the institution was "altogether a private hospital imposing on the public and individuals by pure bluff," the Eagle printed the hospital's entire articles of incorporation, dated May 7, 1885. "There are some queer things about this instrument," not the least of which was that the organization "did not follow its own rules," it editorialized. On April 26, Paul C. Grening sent the newspaper a full financial statement of hospital activity for the duration of his affiliation, along with his letter of resignation, effective immediately, as president of its Board of Trustees.
MAD AND BAD IN BROOKLYN: MEDICINE, SCIENCE, AND MURDER
The Eagle's accusations of misrepresentation certainly undermined public confidence in Mary Dixon Jones's personal integrity, but even more shocking were its revelations regarding her surgical practice. On May 2, the newspaper resumed its exposé with the story of forty-nine-year-old Sarah T. Bates, the faithful wife of a U.S. Navy engineer stationed with the Pacific Coast Squadron. Beginning with the Bates incident and continuing for the next two weeks, the themes of lives destroyed by unnecessary surgery and a doctor covering her tracks in senseless and irrational ways recurred like leitmotifs in Eagle accounts. In its discussions of hapless patients, the Eagle not only hinted at cruelty, but drew a portrait of science gone mad. A private hospital on public funds, a "bogus" Board of Trustees and consulting staff, a president "who only knew what they ... told him" was "bad enough." But such facts would become "insignificant and altogether immaterial," promised the Eagle, when measured against other, more dreadful transgressions. The newspaper then tantalized readers with heartwrenching narratives of several unfortunate women who "fell into the hands of Dr. Mary A. Dixon Jones."
Bates was "a most lovable woman, member of Rev. Charles Cuthbert Hall's church" and the beloved sister of the Eagle's outraged informant, Mrs. Annie Gale, wife of a local leather merchant. Claiming in its headline that "SHE WAS ALIVE, and the Undertaker Waited for Her to Die," the newspaper told a tale of "the most remarkable hospital case on record ... the strange story of a surgical operation and the stranger developments which followed it." According to her sister, Bates had consulted Dixon Jones for an ailment Gale described as "not of a serious character": an inability to take long walks. Gale emphasized her sister's continued ability to complete her "everyday duties and occupations." Nevertheless, after several visits to Dixon Jones, Bates announced that the doctor had recommended a "slight and safe" operation with a three-week recovery period. She entered the hospital on June 16, 1888, and Gale was asked not to visit her sister until "she was ready to receive [her]." Seven days later, in response to a note from the doctor, Gale went to the hospital to find Bates disoriented and barely conscious. Informed by Dixon Jones that she had had a cancerous tumor removed, Mrs. Gale was shocked, as were several of Bates's female relatives and friends. All of them came to visit her in the hospital and testified to the Eagle that she was in good health when she first consulted Dixon Jones. In addition, added a cousin, "the hospital was a miserable, dirty place, and the room was very forlorn." As Bates lost her grip on life over the course of the next several days, Dixon Jones admitted to Gale that her sister was dying. Gale claimed that during Bates's last moments Dixon Jones "pushed her away" from the room where her sister lay, alleging that Bates had blood poisoning and a malignancy that was "highly contagious." Sending Gale's husband for the undertaker, the doctor forcefully advised that the body be buried as soon as possible, preferably without a funeral.
In an even more bizarre turn, the Eagle interviewed Edward Foote, the undertaker's "chief assistant." Foote averred that, when he arrived at the hospital, "Mrs. Jones ... told me the lady was not yet dead, but said I could go into her room and wait." Foote and his assistant actually stood by the bed for roughly fifteen minutes before Bates expired. In addition, he claimed, Dixon Jones was anxious to have the body removed as soon as possible, citing a hospital rule that the death of a patient must be concealed from other "inmates of the house." Though Foote claimed to have found Dixon Jones's behavior "strange," he complied with all her requests, moving the body in an "ice box" for the purposes of concealment, and parking the undertaker's wagon across the street from the hospital. In fact, the undertaker may have been quite used to this attempt at camouflage: Most hospitals in this period were extremely careful to conceal patient deaths. The Boston City Hospital even built an underground tunnel so that stretchers might carry the dead from hospital to morgue without being observed.
Meanwhile, the Eagle interviewed Foote's boss, undertaker George F. Corlis, who saw nothing dangerous in allowing the family to view the body. Bates's relatives had hired Dr. L.H. Barber to perform a postmortem examination. When the Eagle's reporter questioned him about it, Barber revealed that in his estimation Bates was "perfectly healthy." He could find no trace of blood poisoning and no indication that there had ever been a tumor. Indeed, Barber believed Bates died "from the exhuastion resulting from a useless operation."
In the same May 2 article, following the harrowing account of Sarah Bates's fateful death, came a description of the demise of Ida Hunt, whom we have already met. Indeed, in the next several weeks, the Eagle recounted case after case of women who endured needless operations, were bullied or cajoled into consenting to surgery, or were kept ignorant of what would happen to them. "Has She A Craze For Hurrying Women to the Operating Table?" asked the newspaper in its May 7 headline, adding that "a mania and a surgeon's knife make a terrible combination."
Oliver P. Miller, assistant cashier in the Williamsburgh Savings Bank and superintendent of the Lee Avenue Congregational Sunday School, paid Dixon Jones $1100 for the removal of a cancerous tumor from his wife that allegedly would burst and kill her instantly. Dixon Jones justified the expense by claiming that the operation was the most difficult she had yet attempted and that the "charge was the smallest she ever made." Mrs. Miller now lay dying. Josephine Steinfeldt and her sister Mrs. Gerry, an epileptic who was not considered mentally competent, both heard from Dixon Jones that the removal of their malignant tumors would make them well. When neither's health improved, they were informed that they would need a second operation. Yet their former physician, Dr. Carolan, told the Eagle that neither Steinfeldt nor her sister had operable complaints. Mrs. Elizabeth Bruggeman, the wife of a tinsmith, died during an operation for uterine myoma. Dixon Jones insisted on the death certificate that she had heart disease. Moreover, Bruggeman's body was mysteriously removed from the hospital without a permit.
Dixon Jones told Mrs. Euphemia Tweeddale that she would not live another two years, suffering as she was from a "cancerous degeneration." Tweeddale became alarmed enough to consent to surgery, but when it was not successful in alleviating her symptoms, the doctors proposed another operation. She complained, whereupon Charles Dixon Jones bullied her, raving, she confessed, "until I was frightened and took back all l had said. I was all alone in the house and he looked very fierce." Tweeddale consulted another doctor and was told she had no malignancy.
Most poignant of all were women like Mrs. John McCormick, the wife of a pattern-maker employed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Visiting the hospital dispensary for strain and irritation, she too was informed of a tumor that might cause her "to drop dead on the street." Agitated and alarmed, she submitted to surgery, but discovered weeks later that she would no longer be able to have children. McCormick was "shocked and surprised," claiming that Charles Dixon Jones had misrepresented the facts. "What he did was done without my knowledge or consent," she told the Eagle. For a time McCormick, who was "very fond of children," tried to conceal her sterility from her husband, but eventually she felt obligated to tell him. The couple wanted to sue, but didn't have the money. McCormick claimed that "many of the other patients were deceived in the same manner as myself and were intensely angry, but the nature of the operation was not one that any woman would like to admit having suffered." Eventually, McCormick, too, consulted another physician who claimed the operation was unnecessary and it was "improbable" that she had ever had a tumor.
Meanwhile, Eagle reporters were hard at work interviewing neighbors who lived adjacent to the Woman's Hospital, located on Greene Avenue, in the heart of a mixed-class neighborhood built of brownstone and brick. Many of them were inordinately hostile to the institution, and the information they offered raised even more doubts in the minds of Eagle readers as to what kind of medicine was practiced there. John Delany, for example, a saloon keeper whose place of business was located directly across the street, claimed to have seen fifteen or sixteen bodies taken away from the building, generally in the middle of the night. In August, he alleged, he had confronted three men loading a coffin into an undertaker's wagon. "Seeing so many coffins going out," he felt, gave him the right to ask what they were doing and whether they had a permit to remove a body. They admitted to not yet having a permit, but added that Delany better shut up and mind his own business "if [he] did not want to be thrashed." Just then, Dr. A.T. Smith came by on his way home from a meeting held in the neighborhood. When Delany consulted him, Smith advised going directly to the police. Delany did so, and later contacted the officer on the beat, who accompanied him to inquire at the hospital. But by then the wagon had disappeared and the hospital nurse could tell them nothing. Both Smith and Officer Cale of the Ninth Precinct confirmed Delany's account.
Delany was not the only eyewitness to report unsettling experiences with the "slaughter house" at Greene and Sumner. Other neighbors came forward to testify as well. The Eagle speculated that according to these informants there were not two deaths at the hospital, as the Joneses claimed, but closer to fifty. Mrs. Henry Hall, an invalid who lived with her husband and daughter next door to the institution, kept a diary of the goings-on at what she called the "butcher shop next door," recording bodies removed and scenes overheard. Claiming that she shared a wall with the hospital, which enabled her to "hear distinctly everything that goes on as plainly as if it happened in [their] own room," she noted several instances of patients groaning, screaming, and begging for water for hours on end. "On June 10 the groans and shrieks were so fearful that I sent my daughter out of the house," she noted. Mrs. Charles A. Dayton confirmed hearing patient moans as well, while several of the husbands grumbled that they had bought homes in the neighborhood specifically because the deed of purchase guaranteed against nuisances such as these. Everyone interviewed complained of "sickening" odors emanating from the hospital yard.
Mary Dixon Jones was giving hospitals and physicians a bad name. Indeed, at one point in a summary of its charges against her, the newspaper invoked the dreaded word "vivisection," a culturally loaded term with connotations of mad scientists performing cruel experiments on live human beings." At the end of its story of neighborly disgust, the Eagle transitioned to yet another of its many grievances against the Joneses, closing with the following letter to the editor, dated May 7, 1889:
I have read with interest the exposé of the Woman's Hospital as given in your columns. If a hundredth part of what you have published concerning the treatment of patients at the hands of Mrs. Jones can be proved, her case ought to be placed before the Grand Jury. The community ought to be freed of any party posing under the title of M.D., who will perform laparotomy and remove the patient from the hospital four or five days subsequent to such operation, which itself is sufficient cause to produce demise. Brooklyn is too intelligent a city to allow such conduct to go unpunished. Her diploma should be forfeited.
In its May 9 story of the death of Elizabeth Bruggeman, whose body was apparently removed from the Woman's Hospital without a proper permit, the Eagle reporter, seeking answers to allegations that Dixon Jones had illegally altered Bruggeman's death certificate, paid a visit to the city health department. Meeting with a variety of officials, he received reassurances that the sort of tampering with an official document that such an infraction would have required could not have slipped by them unnoticed. Joseph A. Devin, who issued burial permits, remembered nothing unorthodox in this case. He observed, presumably in self- justification, that Dixon Jones was "a regularly registered physician and her certificates are received without question." It was a remark full of meaning, one that went to the heart of the outraged feelings of many in the Brooklyn medical community. The letter to the Eagle's editor from the physician who thought that Dixon Jones's diploma should be revoked was typical of the uncomfortable response of physicians to her behavior. Indeed, many doctors, the newspaper intimated, were dismayed by the sensational nature of the revelations because, for better or worse, Dixon Jones was a member of their professional community. The Eagle made their disquietude good copy, harping on Dixon Jones's lack of professionalism and calling attention to doctors' apparent inability to adequately police themselves.
Undoubtedly aware of the aversion of regular physicians to advertise, the newspaper began by underscoring the pretentiousness in the Joneses' representation of their hospital. The Eagle made much of Dixon Jones's boasting in its first article, when, in her interview with Sidney Reid, she compared her Brooklyn institution to the London Woman's Hospital under the direction of the world- renowned ovariotomist Sir Spencer Wells. The newspaper listed the members of the Brooklyn hospital's hugely padded medical consulting staff in full, presenting a collection of some of the most prominent names in gynecology in Brooklyn, New York, and England, a company that even included Lawson Tait of Birmingham, Spencer Wells's rival in operative gynecology.
But self-advertisement and self-promotion were only the beginning. When the newspaper accused her of running a private hospital with public funds, it also implied that Dixon Jones was money-grubbing, reinforcing this motif with careful and detailed descriptions of the fees she charged every patient and the aggressive single-mindedness she displayed when collecting them. For example, before surgery on Mrs. Euphemia Tweeddale, which at the husband's insistence took place at the Tweeddale home, Dixon Jones allegedly spoke quietly to an already undressed patient, explaining that the anesthesiologist, Dr. King, required payment in advance. The doctor insisted that Tweeddale "go into the other room and find [her] purse all unattired." Dixon Jones charged Tweeddale $35 on King's behalf. Yet King told the Eagle that he did not require payment in advance and his usual fee was only $10. When the fees patients claimed to have paid to her were added up, it appeared that the hospital was overreporting the number of charity patients or officially documenting some of its paying patients as persons who had been treated for free.
In explanation for Dixon Jones's troubling behavior, the newpaper hinted at a slightly shady background. Alleging incorrectly that she came to Brooklyn from New England around 1870 to start a "water cure mill with allopathic ramifications," the newspaper immediately tainted her with sectarian connections. It went on to claim erroneously that she practiced without a diploma "for years," finally seeking a degree from the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia only because "a law was passed requiring all practising physicians to register." When she returned to Brooklyn she lectured to women on health matters. "She talked well," the newspaper continued, and "gathered about her a large following of ladies" impressed with her qualities as an "eminent Christian" and an "infallible scientist." It was this group, the Eagle alleged, who supported her in the founding of the first hospital. "They had a large board of lady managers and a number of eminent gentlemen as trustees, and there was much enthusiasm."
But the institution "only lasted three months," presumably because of Dixon Jones's imperious behavior. The hospital was reorganized and a second group of more "determined" lady managers attempted to apply "some sort of restraint." For the next two years, according to the Eagle, there was "a succession of skirmishes." Jones's medical assistants and the nurses complained of her constantly, and eventually there was a "grand flare up" in the fall of 1884. At a fateful meeting, Mrs. Jones allegedly bullied the lady managers into submission, at one point addressing them in a "towering rage" for attempting to interfere with her, the "chief physician." She refused to allow them to elect a new president. The evening ended when Dixon Jones resigned and left in a huff, intentionally leaving the institution's sick patients in the lurch, according to the Eagle, and even taunting the group to hire another "physician and pay him."
"Mrs. Jones has always posed as a very pious woman," the Eagle continued, "even giving it out that she prayed before every operation. She is still a member of Hanson Place Methodist Church and had a young ladies Bible class there about ten years ago." But "it is asserted by those who remember" that she stopped the Bible teaching for two reasons. The first was an allegation that she attempted to convince "many of the young ladies to undergo serious operations." The second was a scandal that arose in 1879 involving a ten-year- old servant girl indentured to Dixon Jones from the Brooklyn Orphan Asylum. Apparently the girl, Annie Phillips, ran away to a neighbor one night, accusing Dixon Jones of beating and mistreating her. The neighbor, A. W. Tenney, just happened to be a prominent Republican lawyer who was then serving his third term as U.S. District Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. According to the Eagle, Tenney had observed some of this mistreatment himself and consequently refused to return the girl to the Joneses.
There were also allegations that some members of Brooklyn's medical community avoided consultation or contact with Dixon Jones, reinforcing general suspicions of her bad character. The most damning evidence was that Brooklyn's Saturday and Sunday Association, a committee of physicians and philanthropists that collected charitable contributions and donated them as needed to hospitals that treated the poor, had turned down her request for funds. In her interview with Sidney Reid, Dixon Jones had claimed this occurred primarily because of the unwarranted animus of one particular physician, a homeopath who, out of "jealousy," presented an unfavorable report "to help his own institution." But the chairperson of the association's Committee of Investigation, Dr. Reuben C. Moffat, alleged that the negative information he received came primarily from the testimony of Dixon Jones's "assistant physicians and nurses." That information "reflected so strongly on her conduct as a woman and physician," he continued, "that the committee suppressed my report and merely advised unanimously against admitting her." The Reverend Charles Cuthbert Hall, a distinguished religious presence in the Brooklyn community and the one member of the committee singled out by Dixon Jones for his friendship to her institution, backed up Moffat's, not Dixon Jones's, version of these events.
The Eagle complained that Brooklyn's physicians, though quite willing to confirm Dixon Jones's bad reputation when appealed to directly and "glad to see the Eagle paying attention to the Woman's Hospital," were too "cautious in their speech." For example, the newspaper learned from Dr. Segur, a member of the Board of Censors of the King's County Medical Society, that the society had rejected her application for admission "four times" on the grounds of "unprofessional conduct." But most doctors "didn't want to get mixed up in it." Mrs. Tweeddale's doctor, Matthew Howard, confessed to an Eagle reporter that he had been complaining to other colleagues about the excessive number of ovariotomies Dr. Jones was performing for "more than a year," hoping "that the public attention of the profession be called to the facts." But he himself took no further steps in that direction, not caring to "mix myself up in any wrangle or to appear to wish to make myself notorious." As anxious as he was to help, he didn't feel justified in giving the Eagle the names of other patients whose cases had come to his attention, perhaps because of physician-patient privilege. Similarly, Dr. A. W. Shepard, who took over the case of a patient allegedly rendered sterile by Dixon Jones's surgery, felt so frustrated that he blamed the victim. Unable to control his temper after he examined the woman, and perhaps resenting her demonstration of autonomy, he told her that he was surprised to see her alive. "Who ever told you to go to the Joneses?" he asked. "Don't you know they're killing women by the oceans in that place?" When she asked why "they" didn't "put a stop to it," he responded, "We can't. When a woman is so simple as to go to that place it is her own fault if she is ruined for life."
The Eagle contacted over a dozen eminent Brooklyn practitioners for their general impressions of Dixon Jones. All of them commented on the unnecessary surgery performed on several patients. A. J. C. Skene, professor of gynecology in Long Island Hospital Medical School and a nationally known figure in the field, first contended that most of what he knew about Jones was hearsay "which he did not want to repeat." After "persistent questioning," however, he admitted that he had been called in to consult with her on one occasion, after a patient of hers sought out his medical advice. When he disagreed with her diagnosis, the Eagle continued, Dixon Jones warned that if he ever spoke negatively about the character of her work, she "had a tongue" and would "use it."
Other physicians reported disturbing incidents as well. Z. Taylor Emery recalled that he had initially been so impressed with Dixon Jones's self-reported surgical skill that he agreed to administer ether for her in a laparotomy case. He was dismayed at her slowness, "taking twice as long" as other surgeons, and he expressed his fear to her that the patient had been under ether too long and might die. Apparently Dixon Jones responded by picking up her implements and immediately leaving the room, "saying she would not stay there if the patient was going to die." The "grossly unprofessional" nature of her behavior "settled Dr. Emery's association with her." Similarly, one of Dixon Jones's past female assistants, Dr. Caroline Pease, recalled that at one operation to remove a diseased organ, the doctor extracted it and immediately covered it up so that Pease "could not see whether or not it was diseased." Soon afterward, she left Dixon Jones's employ.
But perhaps the most unsettling of the accusations of unprofessionalism was the insinuation that Dixon Jones performed abortions. In a portion of an article sectioned off with the title "What the Colored Cook Saw," the Eagle claimed to have interviewed "Dollie Brown, colored, aged 22," a cook who worked at the Woman's Hospital for eight weeks in June 1888. Brown told a reporter that while she was at the hospital there were three operations performed, "one by Dr. Mary Jones alone," at which she was present. The patient, a "German woman," would not take the ether "until Dr. Mary Jones hit her three or four times." Dixon Jones explained to Brown that she was removing a tumor, and, when the operation was completed, gave her "something wrapped up in cotton" for immediate disposal. "Before throwing it where she told me," the cook alleged, "I opened the cotton and looked inside. I then saw what proved it to be a case of malpractice." Luckily for Jones, the woman died almost immediately.
On May 17, the Eagle published several communications from the Woman's Hospital's illustrious list of consulting physicians, including statements from Arthur M. Jacobus, Paul F. Mundé, and H. Marion Sims of New York, stating either no active connection with the institution or a highly tenuous one. No one from New York, it is important to note, disavowed Dixon Jones's surgical or diagnostic skill. The Eagle concluded, however, that the hospital's consulting staff, like its Board of Trustees, was bogus. But perhaps it was Dr. Samuel King, the anesthesiologist in the Tweeddale case, who had the last word. He not only had given ether for Dixon Jones, but was at one time connected with the Woman's Hospital's Fleet Street Dispensary. He resigned "two years ago," he told the Eagle, because he had numerous opportunities to "witness the result of both doctors' operations." He considered many of them "absolutely unnecessary." Perhaps the most "charitable" way of explaining some of the things the Dixon Joneses had done, he concluded, "is to consider them both more or less insane."
MARY DIXON JONES FIGHTS BACK
During the beginning weeks of the Eagle's exposé, Mary Dixon Jones attempted in vain to counter the image of her and her medical practice fashioned so meticulously by the Eagle. It was a difficult task, especially in the face of the newspaper's contention that it avoided hearsay, confined its interviews to persons with "direct knowledge," and printed only evidence that "would be admitted by a court."
Letters of rebuttal written by Charles met with little success, partly because the Eagle was always able to contextualize them in ways that undermined their credibility, and partly because they were often full of contradictions. More helpful, perhaps, were testimonials from satisfied patients, which the newspaper was willing to print. On May 14, several of these appeared. The first was a lengthy statement from Mrs. Alfred Strome, recounting seven years of suffering from painful abdominal tumors and frequent visits from practitioner to practitioner. Finally recommended to Dixon Jones, she was advised to go ahead with surgery. The tumors removed from her abdomen were shown to her husband. Hospital after-care was excellent, and she spent eight weeks in recovery, ample time to observe the quality of the institution's nursing. Although one death did occur during her stay and the body was removed after dark, this was done "in order to save the patients from being mentally worried and frightened about their own future uncertainties." Strome was "now enjoying perfect health, which I have not done for the past seven years, for which blessing I owe thanks only to a kind Providence and Dr. Mary Dixon Jones." The Eagle discredited this long communication, however, by claiming that a reporter visited Strome's husband, who admitted that the letter had been written for his wife by a gentleman named Alex Andersen. The impression was left that Mrs. Strome did not speak English well and therefore did not even understand what had been written on her behalf.
A second letter from Elizabeth Carter, a patient still residing at the Woman's Hospital when it was printed, testified to the excellent care she and other women received there. She had seen several recover rapidly from serious operations. As for those heard screaming and crying out for water, this was certainly possible, since patients just out of ether often cry and scream for water, because they are not allowed to drink for several hours after surgery until it is medically safe. The letter went on to call into question the testimony of neighbors like Delany, pointing out that, as the windows of the hospital were always kept closed, it would be impossible to see or hear what went on within. A few days later the newspaper printed a third account from a satisfied patient, Mrs. W. R. Nash, who claimed to have undergone a successful operation for a huge tumor that had plagued her for six years. Like the others, she, too, was discharged a well woman.
Perhaps the most effective defense from the Dixon Jones camp came in the form of a report submitted by the "Committee of Five," a body appointed at a recent "special meeting" of the hospital's newly constituted Board of Trustees. The group organized itself specifically for the purpose of investigating the Eagle's allegations. The committee's findings were published verbatim in the Eagle in a lengthy formal statement. Claiming to have investigated all hospital buildings and interviewed medical staff, nurses, and patients, the committee reconfirmed Mary Dixon Jones's version of the institution's history. It went on to allow, however, that there were indeed "many inaccuracies of business details from 1884 down to the present year."
Circulars with the original names of trustees and incorporators were printed up at the hospital's founding, but never updated. It was true that these were widely distributed, though only with the intention of "doing good by calling the attention of the people of Brooklyn to the new charity inaugurated." Until the Eagle began its investigation, however, these had "caused no protest on the part of anyone whose name was used."
Indeed, the hospital's worst infractions grew out of its poverty. Though "rich in the work accomplished," the institution had "never gone to the expense of employing any clerk or bookkeeper, and the work of keeping the accounts has devolved upon such of the trustees as were willing to perform the duty." This situation had led to some serious mishandling of funds. Aside from the meager amounts received from the Excise Board and the state legislature, support for the hospital was solicited untiringly by Dixon Jones, mostly from private patients. These "ladies of high rank and social station" gave freely "in appreciation of the services rendered by her to them" to what they termed her "pet charity." Moreover, when funds were low, Dr. Jones paid the hospital's bills on several occasions "from her own bank account, often waiting for long periods for reimbursement." For years she donated the use of her surgical instruments to the institution. Thus was Dixon Jones burdened with the worry of financial affairs, when it should have been the trustees who managed that aspect of hospital business. With the care of the sick a constant burden, it is no wonder that "accounts have not been kept as they might have been." If mismanagement occurred in these instances, the committee suggested, it was on behalf of a good cause.
The report concluded by reaffirming the high quality of hospital care and declaring that the percentage of mortalities measured against the number of patients treated and the "exceedingly difficult operations performed" was "insignificant." It was true that "the affairs of the hospital in a business sense have, undoubtedly, been carelessly administered." But the Joneses should not be required to shoulder the responsibility in that regard, nor do they deserve "blame" that might be better charged to the trustees. Their connection with the hospital has not enriched them; on the contrary, they have been "out of pocket by reason of it." The report, dated June 10, 1889, was signed by five individuals: the Reverend H. B. Elkins, Esther E. Baldwin, Mrs. M. Lewis, Mrs. S. J. Millett, and J. C. Moss. All but Moss, the president of the Moss Engraving Company in New York, were involved in reorganizing the hospital in 1884.
The report contained some plausible arguments, though based on a central premise that the Eagle articles emphatically contravened: that it was indeed possible to separate the hospital and its board of trustees from the Dixon Joneses and treat these as separate entities. But the Eagle did not even bother raising such an argument; instead it discredited the entire statement by interviewing the last signatory, J. C. Moss, who allegedly told a reporter that he was pressured by Charles Jones to become a trustee, that he attended three meetings in conjunction with the committee, and that "personally" he made "no investigation at ail." He signed the statement because "it seemed straightforward enough" and his fellow trustees "said they had investigated." Indeed, he was not very interested in the case, had not even read the charges against Dixon Jones, but allowed his name to be used because "I was informed the Joneses were not getting fair play."
THE BROOKLYN CITIZEN SPEAKS OUT
By this time, the Joneses might well have been in trouble had not Brooklyn's second largest newspaper, the Citizen, begun a series of articles and editorials dealing with the controversy on May 19, only three weeks before. By the end of June, the Citizen had put itself forward as the champion of Mary Dixon Jones and the avowed foe of the Eaglea newspaper it accused of printing lies for profit. Indeed, in an editorial on May 26, the Citizen had thrown down the gauntlet to its competitor, charging that the Eagle was "conducted without the slightest reference to truth or justice." Issue after issue contained some glaring lie or other, "the object of which is either to blackmail an individual, promote some corrupt financial venture, or impair the reputation of a political or business opponent." In the next several weeks the Citizen continued to offer the doctors sympathy in increasingly melodramatic tones.
To illustrate the point, an article on May 31 covered the convening of a Grand Jury that recommended the indictment of the Joneses for manslaughter. The newspaper hinted that the Eagle had perhaps sought to influence the result. The doctors had already filed for libel against the paper, and the Citizen speculated that the Eagle had made "extraordinary efforts ... to bring about the finding of the present indictment" in order to protect itself. On June 4, the Citizen featured an interview with the Joneses' lawyer, R. S. Newcombe, who insisted that at the pending manslaughter trial he would bring "positive, absolute, irrefragable proof from ... the most eminent scientists in the world" to show that both the Bates and Hunt operations were necessary and that no surgeon could have saved their lives. Citing an example of the Eagle's nefarious methods, he pointed to the allegation that Ida Hunt's abdominal cavity "was filled with rags impregnated with ether." On the contrary, Newcombe stated, the filling was iodoform dressing, "one of the best active surgical agents known" to prevent suppuration. "Most prominent practitioners in the country use it."
Two days later the Citizen came out in open revolt, burnishing the headline: "Atrocious Lies. The Outrageous Attacks on Dr. Mary Dixon Jones. Exposure of Them Begun." It published a letter from the Reverend S. L. Baldwin, "the Distinguished Secretary of the Methodist Missionary Society." The letter, it claimed, showed the "absolute baselessness of many of the malignant accusations made in the Eagle." Declaring that paper's smear campaign to be "one of the foulest conspiracies ever formed in Brooklyn to effect the ruin of an honorable physician," it stated that Baldwin's very "name is a perfect guarantee of the absolute truth of his statements." It went on to assert that the Citizen had "from the outset" found the case of Dixon Jones's vilification "remarkable." Presenting its own version of events, it argued that the Eagle initially attacked Dixon Jones out of "malice," on the basis of one letter it received assailing the Woman's Hospital. When Mrs. Jones realized she could "obtain no sort of redress through its columns," she resorted to a libel suit. Understanding its vulnerability, the Eagle then stirred up enough sentiment to incite the convening of a grand jury by the District Attorney, at which point the newspaper manipulated the outcome of the inquiry as it had done with other grand juries in the past. "Finding themselves in desperate peril of exposure before the public and of a verdict that would jeopardize the existence of their property," declared the Citizen, the Eagle "resorted once more to the desperate device of making use of the prosecuting machinery of the State to crush their victim for their own protection."
The Citizen's editor, Andrew McLean, might well have been speaking from experience. Only two years before, he had left his position as editor-in-chief of the Eagle to establish an alternative Democratic newspaper. Born in Scotland, McLean had emigrated to the United States at the age of fourteen, serving in the navy during the Civil War and afterward settling in Brooklyn. He began his career in journalism at the age of twenty, working first for a small paper in Chicago and later returning to New York as a reporter for the Times. After a stint at the Democratic Brooklyn Union, he joined the staff of the Eagle, where he remained for seventeen years, working his way up to city editor. When Thomas Kinsella, the Eagle's fiery and fiercely Democratic editor-in-chief, died in 1884, McLean took over. But St. Clair McKelway also joined the staff in that year, and, two years later, McLean departed to found the Citizen.
McLean, a man of letters like McKelway, respected as an essayist, poet, dramatic author, platform orator, and after-dinner speaker, might well have been ousted from the Eagle when McKelway began to envision it less as a Democratic mouthpiece and more as an independent newspaper. The evidence only hints at a struggle for leadership and direction, however. Historian Harold Syrett claims that McLean designed the Citizen as a reliable machine organ "which would offset the Eagle's independence." With the Eagle rapidly exiting the fold, the Citizen, according to Syrett, supported the Democrats loyally, even when the machine's self-interested policies required "some preposterous explanation." Thus, personal animosity and political dissent, rather than a passion for the truth, may well account for the Citizen's interest in Dixon Jones. Competitive rivalry granted, however, there is no evidence to conclude that the Citizen deliberately distorted its reportage of the Dixon Jones affair.
During the second week in June, the Citizen fashioned the central trope of its own melodramatic rehabilitation of Mary Dixon Jones. It represented her as the innocent victim of a malicious, sensationalist rag and set out to expose the "false," theatrical, and gothic portrait constructed by Eagle artifice. In its place the Citizen offered counterimages that readers were encouraged to understand as more "objective" and "true," specifically because they were familiar and reassuring. Presumably laying bare the subtext of the Eagle's articles to its readers, it complained of a "dark conspiracy." Acknowledging that those who have their information only from the Eagle might readily look upon Mrs. Dr. Jones as a "female Jack the Ripper," a "cross between La Choueuse, the bony and bloodthirsty hag of 'The Mysteries of Paris," and Mere Frochard, the bleareyed and rum-soaked virago of 'The Two Orphans,'" the paper elaborated on the feminine archetype depicted in the testimonials of her friends. It noted the doctor's "kind and skillful treatment of the sick," her "Christian character and standing," and her "generous services to the poor and lowly." A reporter from the Citizen who visited her found her "kindly," a "true gentlewoman in the full meaning of the word." Dixon Jones's only error was "to have given her time and attention ... to charitable institutions where there was no pay." Had she confined herself to her lucrative private practice, "no trouble would have been raised about her."
But it was her motherly image of respectability that was most noted. Here was a woman, "small in stature, with a still youthful and handsome face, framed by a mass of silvery white hair."
From her open countenance beam motherly love and womanly kindness, and the gentleness of her manner and the soft tones of her voice at once betoken the lady of refinement and culture. Her home surroundings are much as one would naturally associate with such a woman. Nothing ostentatious or garish, no attempt at display. Everything quiet and subdued, her attirethe plain black silk dress and neat white collar; the arrangement of her parlorsfamily portraits, a Brussels carpet of homely pattern; the furnituremodest yet substantial.
This lady, the reporter went on, had nothing to conceal, and was fully willing to "permit the light of the most searching investigation" to shine on her home, her history, her children, and her life's work. Dixon Jones had raised two sons and a daughter, all of whom she supported since childhood. Her children stood as eloquent proof of her motherly skills. Dr. Charles Dixon Jones was a graduate of Wesleyan, where he took special honors. Henry, now an Episcopalian clergyman, attended Harvard, where he taught and occupied the Chair of Elocution for some time. Mary, the youngest, a woman of great refinement whose métier was art, studied at the Packer Institute of Brooklyn. Indeed, when Dixon Jones fought back, it was not for herself, but for her children. "The opprobrium of these attacks has not rendered me unhappy," she told the Citizen. "I am only grieved and wounded in my feelings as a mother. It is their effect upon my children which causes me sorrow. I thought I had done a noble work and was entitled to praise, not persecution." Thus has "the gentle mother, who has devoted her own talents to procuring the best possible education for her little brood" been "pilloried before this community as a ruthless criminal."
The following day the Citizen bolstered its construction of itself as "objective" and "truth-telling," by launching an attack on "sensational journalism." Hinting cryptically that part of the Eagle's motivation could be understood only by the reader who was familiar "with the internal affairs of that paper's publication office," the newspaper proceeded to denounce scandalmongering. When a journal is losing ground, the Citizen continued, "and finds its circulation cut to pieces," its recourse is often "to stimulate the public appetite with the most highly seasoned variety of information they can give. It is the old case of the dreary story teller who supplements his own dullness with lies." The inevitable and unhappy outcome of such mendacity, the Citizen concluded, was to give all newspapers, even those who printed only the "truth," a bad name?
For the rest of the month of June, the Citizen dedicated its columns to retelling the Eagle's distorted narrative, offering to its readers what its bold June 10 headline proudly declared were "Facts vs. Fiction." The newspaper opened with a critique of the Eagle's description of the Ida Hunt case, calling it a "gruesome" tale "of butchery and blood" written by a reporter "who parts company with the truth the moment he dips his pen in gall." As proof, the Citizen claimed that, at the moment such distortions were being written, the Eagle's city editor had on his desk a reprint of an article by Charles Dixon Jones, describing the operations performed at the Woman's Hospital in 1887 and 1888, complete with mortality statistics. Making a case for the resonant cultural power of statistical science, the Citizen went on to cite mortality statistics and charts taken from other experts in ovariotomy, demonstrating most clearly that, when measured alongside the leading specialists in the field, the Woman's Hospital's record was exemplary. Indeed, the editorial noted, not only have Dixon Jones's surgical "conclusions in many departments of that science ... been adopted as authoritative," but her statistical record as published by her son Charles is "more brilliantly successful than some of the most eminent practitioners in the United States." And still the Eagle reporter insisted on painting the institution as an "inferno, on whose gates hung the inscription 'All ye who enter here leave hope behind.'"
Nor did the Citizen miss the valency of the Eagle's grave intimations that Mary Dixon Jones performed abortions. This, too, the newpaper identified as a vicious attempt at defamation, exacerbated by its understanding of the Eagle's manipulative use of racial tropes. Yet the Citizen's own racism reminds the modern reader of the embeddedness of links between the racialized other and various forms of depravity. "A further distortion of the truth," the Citizen editorial pointed out about the Eagle, "was to make the public believe that under the pretext of laparotomy she was actually engaged in criminal practice." "And as usual," the editorial went on, revealing to the modern scholar a good example of the ways in which the Dixon Jones affair conceals layers of possible meanings, the Eagle produced the "inevitable colored" woman to verify the accuracy of these allegations. "What this ignorant or malicious creature knew about surgery," the Citizen protested, "the intelligent reader may conjecture."
To the reporter's insinuations that there "was a perpetual dance of death going on" within hospital walls, the Citizen offered affidavits from satisfied patients, testimony it claimed the Eagle deliberately suppressed. Mrs. W.H. Anderson, originally a patient and then a trustee of the first Woman's Hospital, wrote all the way from California, stating emphatically that Dixon Jones's surgical skill had not only cured her, but her sister and a close friend as well. Others had equally glowing stories to tell. Clara Hartisch recovered from surgery for "tumors filled with pus" that Professor William Polk of Bellevue helped Dixon Jones diagnose and Dr. A.M. Jacobus, another New York specialist, attended as Dixon Jones's assistant. Mrs. Mary Huck was relieved of uterine hemorrhaging and "incessant and unbearable pain" by a very dangerous operation successfully performed by Dixon Jones. Mrs. Mina Emerich, with abdominal pain that led her to consult five or more physicians in Brooklyn and New York who told her she had cancer spreading beyond the uterus, was ready to undergo "anything that would relieve me, either by cure or death." Now, two years later, she claimed to be "a new woman and perfectly well." Anna Brown told how her little girl, Lizzie, whose deformed limbs prevented her from walking, was cured by an operation for which she paid nothing. Margaret Walsh testified to Charles Dixon Jones's solicitous after-care on the occasion of three different operations, and Professor C. H. Edwards, a photographer who was now assisting Dr. Charles by photographing his many cases of deformed limbs, had first come into contact with Jones when his surgery cured Edwards's ailing wife. All of these patients paid minimal fees for their medical care; indeed, many even alleged that Charles Dixon Jones gave them money for food or clothing!
One informant told the Citizen the story of a woman named Mrs. Jones who earned her living as a seamstress. Forced to enter the hospital for a serious operation that eventually cured her, she was unable to make payments on her sewing machine, and it was eventually repossessed. "I know for a fact," the speaker continued, "that Dr. Charles Jones went to Wheeler & Wilson, and if you go there they will tell you so, and paid out of his own pocket for the machine and had it sent to the apartments of Mrs. Jones." A strikingly new element in the Citizen's reportage was its emphasis on the Joneses' kind treatment of children and their extensive pediatric orthopedic practice, which the Eagle hardly mentioned.
When speaking of the neighborhood reception of the Woman's Hospital, this time referring to its branch on Tillary Street and its dispensary on Fleet Place, the Citizen's portrait stands in striking contrast to the Eagle's depiction of neighborhood snoops who kept track of the pine boxes leaving the building at midnight and deplored the foul smells emanating from inside. For example, the atmosphere at the hospital's outpatient branch, the Fleet Street dispensary, is described as bustling with efficiency and the resounding cheerfulness of grateful patients. Said one teary-eyed old lady, addressing the reporter, "If you go down to Hudson Avenue and take a pencil and paper with you, you will find hundreds of people, blacks and whites, to speak of the goodness of the doctors."
The Citizen covered the vindicating "Committee of Five" report with great fanfare. In addition, it accused the Eagle of trying to suppress the statement, on evidence that while The Citizen, The World, The Tribune, and The Standard-Union all ran the committee's conclusions on June 13, the Eagle delayed until the following day! Indeed, the Citizen observed in an editorial, the Eagle had intentionally concealed many letters written to its editors defending Dixon Jones and her son. Following up on this accusation the next day, the Citizen attacked the Eagle's effort to undermine the credibility of the signatories to the Committee of Five testimony, printing letters from John C. Moss, H. B. Elkins, and S. L. Baldwin deploring the Eagle's distortions in reporting their interviews. In an insightful editorial of the same day, the Citizen proceeded to deconstruct the Eagle's misrepresentations with the enthusiasm of a literary critic, pointing out not only narrative inconsistences, but ways in which such devices as deliberate misspellings of names were used to undermine public trust.
In a final attempt to discredit the Eagle, the Citizen reviewed some of that newspaper's earlier allegations in the controversy, revisiting articles published in May and retelling the narratives by restoring crucial details it claimed the Eagle had maliciously left out. An interview with Alfred Strome, for example, husband of the Swedish lady whose letter praising Dixon Jones had been discredited because it was written by a friend, revealed that both Strome and his wife understood and spoke English quite well, "though not good enough to put our ideas in writing." The Stromes reiterated their wholehearted satisfaction with Dixon Jones's treatment, as did Mrs. Hulten, another patient whose story the Eagle allegedly misrepresented. But even more convincing were the host of letters the Citizen printed from leading New York physicians, letters that ranged in date from 1880 to 1887 and written by such acclaimed practitioners as Abel Mix Phelps, John A. Wyeth, Robert Tuttle Morris, Paul F. Mundé, William M. Polk, and Benjamin F. Dawson, accepting the honor of appointment to the hospital's consulting staff. These stood in direct contradiction to the Eagle's claim that most doctors knew little to nothing about the hospital.
Last, the Citizen devoted two days to reconstructing the case of Mrs. Oliver P. Miller, printing what it termed the Eagle's "bogus" interview with her husband and its own "true" version in double columns side by side. In the Citizen's account, Miller complained about the Eagle's faulty reporting, characterizing that newspaper's version as a "grossly garbled and in many instances absolutely false statement of what was said by me." His wife had been recommended to Dixon Jones by Dr. Wheeler. He admitted to paying Dixon Jones $1100 for his wife's surgery, but believed sincerely that the doctor had been justified in the charge because it was a difficult operation. The amount was agreed upon beforehand. Although Dixon Jones was unsure of the diagnosis, a microscopic examination of the tumor she removed proved it to be cancerous. The doctor informed Miller that his wife "could not be saved" and told him what to expect. She left the case in the hands of Dr. Wheeler, not because she didn't want to treat a dying patient, but because Dr. Wheeler was Miller's family physician and lived near enough to give the constant attention and administer the pain relievers his wife would need as the end came near. Miller went on to acknowledge the aggressiveness of the Eagle's reporter, who told him that the newspaper planned to "run her out of this town" and urged Miller not to pay the remainder of his bill. Moreover, the reporter did not seem to understand that Dixon Jones was entitled to place several private, paying patients in the hospital, and "consequently the money did not belong to the hospital." Indeed, Miller observed, "the deliberation with which words are put into my mouth by the Eagle reporter in his so-called interview with me, which I never uttered, is simply astounding." Miller voiced his initial reluctance to speak publicly about such matters, a sentiment that he felt "compelled" to set aside "when confronted with the wrong which has been done Dr. Jones by the report of the interview with me as published in the Eagle...." A few days later, the Citizen told of Mary Dixon Jones's $150,000 suit for libel against the Eagle, printing in full the complaint filed by her lawyers with the state supreme court. The document occupied all four columns and several pages of the newspaper.
On Monday, June 24, the Citizen offered a synopsis of its arguments. The Dixon Jones case, the newspaper believed, was "one of the most extraordinary in the history of American journalism," a most "glaring" instance of "journalistic prostitution." It exemplified how far a newspaper would go in the "gratification of personal malice" and how successful it could be in distorting the facts. Little wonder the state legislature had recently refused to modify the laws of libel in favor of the newspapers. Fortunately for all involved, the Citizen was ready to expose the truth, marking the "limit of the liberty of the press to run to the most infamous licentiousness."
In the end, however, the Eagle's articles left a powerfully negative impression of Dixon Jones. Nothing, it seemed, not even the Citizen's chivalrous and self-satisfied apologia, could stem the tide of public disfavor. On May 31 a grand jury indicted her and her son on two counts, murder in the second degree for the death of Sarah Bates, and manslaughter in the second degree in the death of Ida Hunt. Mother and son were arrested and arraigned, pleaded not guilty and were held over for trial. Bail was set at $7500 for Dixon Jones and $5000 for Charles. It took two days to raise the money. Mrs. Maria Robbins, the wealthy widow of the Fulton Fish Market merchant Eli Robbins, came to court in person to offer bond. After a night in jail, the Joneses were released.
At the arraignment, their lawyer, R. S. Newcombe, of Donohue, Newcombe and Cardoza, echoing the themes developed in the Citizen, claimed that the Joneses had been persecuted by the newspaper. District Attorney Ridgway, who only months before had been a friend of the Woman's Hospital, replied, "The articles published in the Eagle had as much to do in procuring this indictment as had the King of Siam. Mrs. Jones and her son were indicted on the evidence presented against them and on that alone." For better or for worse, the Joneses would have their day in court.
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
Appendix: Bibliography of Dr. Mary Dixon Jones's Medical Writings