Doctor Zay

Phelps, Elizabeth Stuart

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Mar-05-1998


A Boston attorney is injured on the road while traveling by buggy in Maine. His rescuer, who stabilizes his fractures and transports him to town for continued care, turns out, much to the patient's dismay, to be not only an attractive woman, but a very competent physician. As the attorney becomes increasingly aware of the quality of medical care he is receiving, he also finds himself falling in love with his doctor.

The work is replete with demonstrations of Dr. Zay's skill as physician, her humanity, and her professional commitment. Eventually her resistance to her suitor's offers of marriage is worn down, but she demands a contract which guarantees she will be able to continue the practice of medicine after the wedding. Set in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the novel romanticizes the practice of rural medicine and the contemporaneous view of late Victorian women pursuing this "masculine" profession.


Much like Sarah Orne Jewett's A Country Doctor (see this database), this early novel about nineteenth-century women physicians glorifies both the profession and the woman who stars in the doctor role. Phelps is best known for her feminist tracts and activism for women's rights, and this piece of fiction demands some suspension of disbelief and forgiveness from its modern readers. On the other hand, it seems to be an important historical artifact of that brief period at the end of the century when an unprecedented number of women were studying and practicing medicine--just a decade or two before the medical school doors essentially closed against them for the subsequent 75 years.


First published: 1882



Place Published

New York



Page Count