Susan Dimock (1847 – 1875)

Written By Jonathan Martin

Susan J. Dimock was born in Washington, North Carolina (Beaufort County) in 1847 to Henry and Mary Dimock. Mary was the daughter of the Washington sheriff Henry Dimock, a northerner who migrated from Maine and editor of the North State Whig. Susan’s father also owned the Lafayette Hotel in Washington, and Susan enjoyed playing in the hotel during her adolescent years. While she lived in North Carolina, Susan was apprenticed by Dr. S.S. Satchwell, a rural doctor and neighbor to the Dimock’s, who took the young girl on his routes throughout the eastern North Carolina countryside.

In 1864, seventeen year old Susan and her mother moved to Massachusetts after her father died during the Civil War. Drawing inspiration from Dr. Satchwell, Susan decided to pursue a career in the medical profession. She studied at the New England Hospital for Women and Children in Boston under the guidance of Dr. Marie Zakrzemska, one of the earliest female doctors in America. The Boston hospital did not award degrees so Dimock decided to apply to Harvard Medical School. The school denied Dimock because she was female.

Even though she was refused entrance into Harvard, Dr. Zakrzemska advised Dimock to continue her medical pursuits in Europe. Dimock decided to move to Europe to pursue her dream of practicing medicine, and in 1868 she began studying at the University of Zurich. In 1871, Dimock graduated from the medical program at the University of Zurich. After she earned her medical degree, Dr. Dimock moved back to Boston to practice at the New England Hospital. She became a specialist in surgery with a concentration in obstetrics and gynecology.

In 1875, Dr. Dimock decided to take a break from the medical field and visit Europe once again. The North Carolina native sailed on the steamship Schiller with her friend Bessie Green. However, the young doctor never made it to Europe because the boat struck a granite reef near England on May 8, 1875. Not a single passenger survived the shipwreck, and Dimock was only twenty-eight years old when she died. North Carolina’s first female doctor is interred at the Forest Hills Cemetery in Boston.

Along with Annie Lowrie Alexander (1864 – 1929), Susan Dimock was one of the first female pioneers in the realm of medicine in the United States. Though their professional lives took them to different places (Alexander decided to remain in her native state while Dimock studied and practiced throughout the country and Europe), both of these women remain important figures in both North Carolina and the nation for their input to the American medical field. Susan Dimock instituted the first nursing school in the county and she became the first female allowed into the North Carolina Medical Society.