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Dr. Mary Amanda Dixon Jones Trials: 1890 & 1892

Able Doctor Or "difficult Woman"?, The Manslaughter Case, The Libel Suit

Defendants: Mary Amanda Dixon Jones, Charles Dixon Jones
Crimes Charged: Manslaughter, medical malpractice
Chief Defense Lawyer: Richard S. Newcombe
Chief Prosecutor: James A. Ridgway
Judge: Willard Bartlett
Place: Brooklyn, New York
Date of Trial: February 17, 1890-February 23, 1890
Verdict: Mary Amanda Dixon Jones: not guilty; Charles Dixon Jones: directed acquittal
Libel case Jones v. Brooklyn Eagle, February-March 1892 Defendant: Brooklyn Eagle
Plaintiff: Mary Amanda Dixon
Jones Plaintiff Claim: $150,000
Chief Defense Lawyer (for Eagle): Mr. Dykman
Chief Lawyer for Plaintiff: Charles A. Jackson
Judge: Willard Bartlett
Place: Brooklyn, New York
Date of Trial: February 1-March 12, 1892

SIGNIFICANCE: The trials of Dr. Mary Amanda Dixon Jones focused attention on the state of surgical practice, the role of women in medicine and the professions more generally, issues of class and status, and the power of the popular press to focus public concern on scandals.

Dr. Mary Amanda Dixon Jones had established the first women's hospital in Brooklyn, New York, when it was still a separate city, proud of its reputation as a family-oriented, churchgoing pure city in contrast to crime-ridden New York. Middle-class women in Brooklyn participated actively in charitable activities and were avid readers of newspapers.

In 1889, the daily Brooklyn Eagle launched a series of articles denouncing the medical practice of Dr. Dixon Jones, claiming her malpractice amounted to manslaughter in several cases. Further, the articles claimed that she conducted experiments on helpless women, unnecessarily removing organs for her own scientific study. The paper charged her with secretly concealing deaths at her hospital, mismanaging funds at the hospital, and mishandling surgical practice so badly that many of her patients were rendered incapable of having children, were disfigured, or died as a result.

The sensational series of articles soon led a competing newspaper, the Citizen, to publish a set of countercharges. That newspaper claimed the Eagle simply sought to discredit a decent woman and a leading physician in order to increase circulation and to create scandal where none existed.

The newspaper crusade evoked many themes current in the popular mind of the 1880s and 1890s in the United States. Medical practice and surgery was evolving, but public faith in medicine was shaky. Women entered medical practice in fairly large numbers in the late nineteenth century, leading to very mixed feelings. On the one hand, the profession appeared to coincide with the popular concept that the female gender was particularly suited to the care-giving nature of medicine. On the other hand, some male doctors and many members of the public regarded female doctors with suspicion. Women in traditionally male roles had to behave with circumspection, maintaining a ladylike demeanor.

Mary Amanda Dixon Jones did not quite conform to that stereotype, with an often abrasive and imperious manner. Furthermore, even her supporters agreed that she did not always communicate well with patients, often failing to explain risks associated with certain procedures.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917