2 minute read

Dr. Mary Amanda Dixon Jones Trials: 1890 & 1892

The Libel Suit

Despite her acquittal, the publicity and the trial had resulted in a decline in Dixon Jones' medical practice, and she decided to bring a libel suit for $150,000 in damages against the Eagle. In light of her earlier acquittal on the manslaughter charges, many observers, including the editors of the Citizen, expected the Eagle to settle out of court. However, the publishers of the Eagle refused to make an offer, and Dr. Dixon Jones refused to drop the libel charge.

The libel case was heard over a period of six weeks in a dreary and freezing courtroom in downtown Brooklyn in February and March 1892. Public attendance at the trial and steady newspaper coverage made the trial a cause celebre. The defense introduced 118 witnesses to confirm the charges that had appeared in the Eagle. By presenting witness after witness who showed that the general thrust of the newspaper's charges had been well-founded, the defense attorneys hoped to convince the 12-man jury that the evidence mitigated any errors in the newspaper charges. That defense would allow the jury to find for a reduced or nominal financial award.

When attorneys for Dixon Jones presented her case, over 69,000 words of printed material was read into the record, a document the size of a short novel, containing the alleged libelous material. Her attorneys again brought expert witnesses who testified to her skill and reputation as a physician. However, when Dixon Jones took the stand, her own testimony worked against her. Her short temper and disregard for the judge's instructions on how to answer questions appeared to confirm to jurors that she was not the motherly, caring doctor that her lawyers had suggested. Quite the opposite—she appeared calm and unmoved by horrendous testimony of the agonies of former patients. Her apparent arrogance and hostility only strengthened the case of the newspaper's attorneys that she was a "difficult woman," and her manner appeared to work against her with the all-male jury.

After 37 hours of deliberation, the jury rendered a verdict for the newspaper. Although she had been exonerated of the manslaughter charges in her 1890 trial, the effect of the 1892 libel trial was to suggest that the general thrust of the newspaper's charges against her had substance. Her medical practice was destroyed. She retired and moved to New York City with her son, Charles.

Dr. Dixon Jones continued to write, and in 1894, she became an associate editor of the Women's Medical Journal. She died in 1908, at the age of 80.

Rodney Carlisle

Suggestion for Further Reading

Regina Morantz-Sanchez. Conduct Unbecoming a Woman: Medicine on Trial in Turn of the Centuty Brooklyn. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Dr. Mary Amanda Dixon Jones Trials: 1890 1892 - Able Doctor Or "difficult Woman"?, The Manslaughter Case, The Libel Suit