Susan Dimock's election to the North Carolina Medical Society as an honorary member in 1872 shows how far women's professional opportunities had grown during James Dusenbery's lifetime. In the 1840s, women had only very limited access to professions outside of teaching and such domestic occupations as cooking, weaving, and dressmaking. Educated young men, like Dusenbery, valued women primarily as charming companions and potential spouses, not as contributors to intellectual or scientific endeavors. Richard Don Wilson, a classmate of Dusenbery's, described the ideal woman as "the rose that adorns [the] path of life — and the honey that sweetens its cup" and wrote that women ought to be "the inspirers of virtue" rather than participants in the public life of the state (June, 1841
Susan Dimock, born in Washington, North Carolina, in 1847, was not satisfied with becoming a schoolteacher or a silent influence on the moral life of men. Instead she actively pursued a medical career, encouraged by a series of remarkable women and men who recognized her talents and commitment in the face of serious obstacles. Over the course of her tragically short life, Dimock saw significant improvement in women's access to medical training and their heightened status within the medical community. When Dimock's first mentor, Dr. Solomon Sampson Satchwell
(1821–1892), proposed her as an honorary member of the North Carolina Medical Society in 1872, he based his proposal on the principle of equal recognition for woman "in all her useful spheres — this in particular" (Transactions of the Nineteenth Annual Meeting
11). Although the Transactions
do not quote any member of the society speaking openly against women's rights, the vote was close: 17 for and 15 against. Once her nomination was adopted, Dr. Joseph John Summerell (1819–1893), who had graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1842 with James Dusenbery, successfully moved that the vote be made unanimous.
To learn more about this remarkable woman, you can view the presentation below. This presentation was composed by Dr. Elizabeth Dreesen, of the Division of Trauma and Critical Care at the University of North Carolina Medical School, and delivered by her at a meeting of the Orange County Medical Society on December 8, 2010. Links to Dimock's thesis (in German) and related materials can be found here