- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 28, 2006

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — After 50 years in an attic, a dusty box was discovered, its forgotten contents momentarily explored. Then it was closed and ignored for almost another half-century.

Now, the secrets of the mysterious worn and tattered cardboard box are being revealed and examined by members of the Library of Congress.

They are the personal papers of Dr. Mary Amanda Dixon Jones (1828-1908), who grew up in nearby Church Creek and became famous across the country for her daring gynecological surgical procedures conducted in the late 1800s in New York City.

She was one of the few female doctors in the country at the time, and among an elite few who were surgeons.

Jones was the first surgeon in the country to propose and successfully perform a total hysterectomy. The surgery involved removing a 17-pound tumor from the uterus of a patient.

“She is a pioneer in American medicine because of that,” said Melanie Merryweather of the Dorchester County Historical Society in Cambridge, where the box has been kept. The collection was recently given to the society by member Virginia “Trip” Linthicum of Church Creek, in whose attic it was found almost 50 years ago.

There was also a special discovery within the contents. Among the jumbled papers was a photo, torn into three sections, of Jones when she was probably in her 60s. This may be one of only two known photo-portraits of the doctor.

The photo may have been taken in happier days during life in New York, before she and her physician son, Charles, were arrested, jailed and charged with second-degree murder in the death of Sarah Bates.

Jones is the subject of “Conduct Unbecoming a Woman,” a book by Regina Morantz-Sanchez, a history professor at the University of Michigan.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, according to the book, “printed a series of articles that detailed a history of midnight hearses and botched operations performed by a scalpel-eager female surgeon …”

More than 300 witnesses took part in the trials, which seemed to pit the male-dominated medical field against a handful of women who threatened their power.

In the end, Jones and her son were acquitted. Yet her medical reputation was ruined, and she quickly faded from public scrutiny.

“During the malpractice trial, the newspaper churned out [sensational] stories about the case, which today might be classified as yellow journalism,” Mrs. Merryweather said. “She sued, just after she fought [the expensive] malpractice case. It was unfortunate she lost, because it cost her a fortune.”

Mrs. Merryweather said Jones’ daughter was killed and her other son, a priest, died.

“It is striking that a woman who had so much, who offered so much, had so much tragedy in her life,” she said.

The papers were examined recently by Janice Ruth, manuscript specialist of American Women’s History at the Library of Congress.

“It was a miracle that these papers came to Church Creek, because I don’t think they would have survived if they hadn’t,” Mrs. Merryweather said.

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