Victor/Victoria: Arkansas's Humble Country Doctor Was Hiding A Shocking Secret

By Karen Harris

Portrait of Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910), the first woman (in 1849), to receive a medical degree in the U.S. Undated photograph. (Getty Images)

Things were different in the early 1900s. Sure, women were marching in the streets, demanding the right to vote, but they still had a long way to go toward true gender equality. In those days, women were discouraged from pursuing careers outside the home, especially in fields not considered "feminine." That’s why it made headlines across the country when people learned a humble country doctor in Arkansas named Victor Mayfield was, in fact, a Victoria. 

Dr. Victor Mayfield

Starting around 1894, Dr. M. Victor Mayfield treated patients in several Arkansas towns, including Siloam Springs, Sulphur Springs, Gentry, and Mena. Dr. Mayfield became known as a top-quality physician with a great bedside manner and even the go-to doctor in the area for cancer treatments, as he used his own proprietary cancer medicine that people claimed worked miracles. He was well liked outside the clinic, too, often seen smoking a pipe and drinking whiskey with the men in town and taking women on dates. He even married a woman in 1913, though for reasons you can probably imagine, it didn't last long.

Dr. Mayfield was a petite man with a slight build, but this didn’t really raise any red flags with the people in the Arkansas towns where he practiced medicine. What they did wonder about was his lack of beard. He was asked about it several times over the years, and each time, he explained that he used an "old Indian remedy" that prevented the growth of facial hair to avoid the tedious task of daily shaving, though he could never produce this wonder drug.

Mena, Arkansas, 1907. (Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

The Jig Is Up

Mayfield generally succeeded at maintaining the ruse until 1926, when the 79-year-old doctor fell ill and another doctor examined him. News of the shocking discovery made the local newspapers and soon spread across the country. When a photographer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showed up to snap a photo of the recovering Dr. Mayfield, he charged the man $10, then gave the money to a woman who helped nurse him back to health. Of course, Dr. Mayfield was asked why he lived as a man, and it turned out he had been raised that way by his English parents who longed for a son to pass down the father's cancer medicine. Dr. Mayfield died a few years later, having sadly lost all his patients after his secret was revealed.

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.