Mary Victor (M. V.) Mayfield (1847?–1929)
Mary Victor (M. V.) Mayfield came to Mena (Polk County) in 1918 and practiced medicine with the identity of a man for seven or eight years. A small, kind, and peaceful citizen, Mayfield soon became “the cancer doctor.” Mayfield put Mena in the national news for the events of January 23, 1926, when it was revealed by the news media that Mayfield had the biological characteristics of a female.
Little is known about M. V. Mayfield’s early life. Mayfield later claimed that the male identity had begun in England—Mayfield’s parents needed a son, not a daughter, to “protect property rights,” so they dressed Mayfield as a boy. Mayfield carried this on into adulthood, also doing things society expected of men, such as smoking a pipe and drinking a little liquor when it was available. Mayfield explained never needing to shave by saying there had been a past application of an “old Indian remedy” that made the daily chore unnecessary. Its formula was, of course, kept secret.
Mayfield arrived in Mena in 1918, living and conducting a medical practice in rented rooms above the Central Meat Market at 709 Mena Street, and was considered a man by friends, patients, and other doctors. However, in 1926, at age seventy-nine, Mayfield was found very ill at home. Dr. W. C. Vandiver was called to treat Mayfield. When Mayfield’s condition declined, caregivers discovered female sex characteristics while bathing Mayfield.
As the news spread, the small town in western Arkansas was put on the national map. Calls came from news people in Fort Smith (Sebastian County); Little Rock (Pulaski County); Muskogee, Oklahoma; Kansas City, Missouri; St. Louis, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; and New York City.
Mayfield was not able to pay the medical bills at the time and asked the photographer from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, F. A. Behymer, for a $10 donation. Friends of the doctor arranged for Mayfield’s care in the home of a woman named Sharp. People feared Mayfield would die without relating a life story, and a national effort was made to fill in details. Word came of two marriages to women and a jail fire in which Mayfield was thought to have been killed. A letter from Belvidere, Illinois, claimed Dr. Mayfield was married and “frequented saloons and poolhalls.” Mayfield also claimed to have worked for the government in Washington DC, though this was later repudiated. More questions emerged than were ever answered.
In a few months, Mayfield recovered and left Mena. The August 3 issue of the Mena Star printed a letter from Mayfield, who was living in David City, Nebraska. Mayfield returned to Mena by 1927 but had to become a ward of the county for two years in the county farm at Rust (now Potter). Mayfield died on August 24, 1929 and was buried in Gann Cemetery, south of Mena, as a pauper, and, as Mayfield had wished, in men’s clothing, with the service performed by a woman, Fannie Vise.
For additional information:
Coogan, Harold. “Dr. M. V. Mayfield.” Mena Star. January 19, 1986.
Vail, Roy. Mena and the Queen Wilhelmina Inn, a Brief History. Mena, AR: Desert Biological Publications, 1995.
Williams, Troy, and Leon Toon, eds. History of Polk County. Dallas: Curtis Media Corp., 1988.
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