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The case of the disappearing doctor: (Women, suicide and insanity at the turn of the century)

  • Susan Collinson (a1)
Extract

Edinburgh. She had recently taken up a locum tenens at the Royal Free Hospital in Gray's Inn Road in place of one of the resident staff who was away on holiday. The Lancet records that she was “seen in the hospital and about the wards up to noon on Saturday 15th (August), but since then nothing has been seen of her nor had anything been heard of her up to Thursday morning. We trust that before the paper is in our readers' hands Miss Hickman's whereabouts and safety will be made known to her father, with whose anxiety in the situation we sympathise deeply”. By 29 August nothing had been heard, though Miss Hickman's sudden and apparently motiveless disappearance had by then attracted a great deal of public interest. She had been a brilliant student, attending the London School of Medicine for Women, where she had consistently gained Honours and Prizes. Her first job was as Junior House Surgeon at Clapham Maternity Hospital. Her independent life-style (there was still controversy surrounding the practice of medicine by women) and the lack of motive for her disappearance led to a range of theories and explanations being brought to bear upon the mystery. The Lancet (29 August) suggested that Miss Hickman's disappearance “may be due to that curious condition of mentality which leads to ‘automatic wandering’ – a condition that is perfectly familiar to psychologists” and recommended to the reader a paper by Dr W. S. Colman, lecturer in forensic medicine. Entitled ‘A Case of Automatic Wandering lasting Five Days’, it described in detail two episodes of prolonged automatism. On each occasion, the patient had ‘woken up’ after a period of days, many miles from home.

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Copyright
This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC-BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
References
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Anderson, Olive (1987) Suicide in Victorian and Edwardian England. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
British Medical Journal (Vol. II for 1903) pp. 1028, 1083, 1105, 1312, 1356, 1381.
Journal of Mental Science Vol. 50 (1904) p. 101.
The Lancet (Vol. II for 1903) pp. 569, 624, 593, 964, 1177, 1443, 1512.
Saturday Review, ‘The Case of Miss Hickman’ (24 October 1903) p. 507.
The Spectator ‘Missing’ (24 October 1903) p. 641.
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BJPsych Bulletin
  • ISSN: 0955-6036
  • EISSN: 1472-1473
  • URL: /core/journals/bjpsych-bulletin
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The case of the disappearing doctor: (Women, suicide and insanity at the turn of the century)

  • Susan Collinson (a1)
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