Feels like coming home: Author of Susan Dimock biography returns to Washington

Published 5:00 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

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By Clark Curtis, For Washington Daily News

It has been nearly 30 years since author Susan Wilson was first captivated by the life of one of Washington’s own, Susan Dimock. Wilson was a freelance reporter at the time, writing history columns for the Boston Globe. It was then that she came across a series of articles from 1875 about the untimely death of Dimock while aboard the steamship SS Shiller, which ran aground in fog off England’s Scilly Isles. “It was fascinating to read the articles about such a strong woman, and how revered she was as a physician in Boston,” said Wilson. “I felt the need to find out more about her, as it would make a great story.” 

It was that story and subsequent speaking engagements about Dimock over the years, which ignited Wilson’s journey to write the first-ever biography about Dimock. “After one of my lectures, several in attendance came up to me and asked where they could buy my book,” said Wilson. “When I did some research and learned that no one had, I decided to make that my project. “If not me,” I said to myself, “then who?”

Prior to beginning her work on the book, Wilson continued her research into the life of Dimock. She learned that Dimock had been buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Boston. After visiting the cemetery she discovered that the original headstone was decaying. Wilson led the effort to have the headstone replaced and arranged for the old headstone to be moved back to Washington to the cemetery at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, where her father is buried. “I was fortunate to connect with Joanna and Leonard Hubert of Washington, who happened to be vacationing in New England at the time,” said Wilson. “They agreed to take the headstone back to Washington in their station wagon. That was my first real connection with Washington prior to beginning the book.”

In 2016 Wilson applied for and was accepted at the Women’s Study Research Center at Brandeis University near Boston, to work on her proposed book. Wilson began her voyage of discovery in earnest in the Fall of 2016 when she planned her first trip to Washington, to experience a “sense of place,” as she calls it, when doing a book about history.  “Susan spent two-thirds of her life in Washington, so it just made sense,” said Wilson. “It was an extraordinary experience, from the people I met to the sites I saw where she used to live, and the opportunity to go through historic archives at the Brown Library about her life. I tried to get a vision of what it was like for her to be here, what the town looked like, what it sounded and smelled like, and what the people were doing at the time. The significance of sense of place became very real during that trip to Washington, and I proceeded to do that as I traveled around the world to visit every major town Susan had been in.”

Seven years after her first visit to Washington, Wilson is returning to celebrate her newly published book, Women and Children First: The Trailblazing Life of Susan Dimock, M.D.“In a funny way, returning to Washington is like a homecoming to me, and I feel like I’m bringing Susan back home as well,” said Wilson. “I’m coming back to her home and connecting with all of the people who have been so gracious to me in their mutual desire to make this story the best it could be. I was a complete newbie when I first came to Washington in 2016, and I have learned so much along the way. I’m very excited about returning and seeing some of the things that I have written about and yet to have seen in person. I can’t wait.”

Wilson will make several public appearances while in Washington, which will include:

Thursday 1/11/24 

2:00 pm-3:00 pm 

Brown Library

Bites of History Series presentation entitled “Voyages of Discoveries.” Susan will discuss her travels around the world while doing research for the book and her amazing discoveries along the way. Seating will be limited.

Friday 1/12/24

10:00 am-11:00 am 

St. Peter’s Episcopal Church Cemetery

Historic Walking Tour with Susan Wilson and Leesa Jones, as they tour Main Street east to west and discuss Dimock’s life and point out areas of historic significance while growing up in Washington. Attendees are asked to gather at the St. Peter’s Episcopal Church cemetery, where Dimock and her father are buried, by 10:00 am.

Friday 1/12/24

5:30 pm-6:30 pm 

North Carolina Estuarium

Susan Wilson will give a formal presentation on the life of Susan Dimock. Attendees must register in advance by calling 252-948-0000.

Saturday 1/13/24


Book signing and meet and greet with Susan Wilson at the Harbor District Market.

Saturday 1/13/24

2:00 pm-4:00 pm

Book signing and meet and greet with Susan Wilson at Pamlico Books. Books will be on sale at a discounted price.

“Ideally in situations like these, you will run into someone who has read the book and says, “oh, but you didn’t hear about “ or  “oh, you made a mistake here,” said Wilson. “But that is all great! You feel like a dork for a minute, and then you go “this is fabulous and I can’t wait to integrate this into my next story or to make this correction in my next edition.” I’m hoping this is all the beginning of a long journey of discovery.”

Wilson added that since working with library historian Stephen Farrell he has discovered some wonderful things about Dimock’s mother, Mary Malvina Owens Dimock. One of which is that she was a true survivor. “Susan was an only child,” said Wilson. “Her father Henry died in 1862. Susan died in 1875, and her mother lived until 1910. So to outlive them both and still be strong and independent is pretty amazing. That almost sounds like a book right there!” she said with a big chuckle and a huge grin.