Heritage Times

Exploring lesser known History


An Abuser disguised as elite “Father of modern gynaecology”

Dr James Marion Sims, less known for his racial ideology that black women perceived no pain.
Dr James Marion Sims is also known as “Father of modern Gynaecology”. Gynaecology is a medical speciality that concerns of diseases specific to women and their reproductive health. Dr Sims secured his name in Gynaecological text books by developing a surgical technique for repairing vesicovaginal fistula, a devastating complication of prolonged labour and child birth.

For years Dr J Marion was celebrated and even today he is praised by many for developing his surgical technique. A Statue was built in his memory to pay him tribute. He was definitely a barrier breaker but at a cost that can never be repaid. The thoughts, feelings and sufferings of his patients are hidden from history. Their voices almost entirely unheard.

This father of modern gynaecology, who did a pioneer work in gynaecological surgeries and invented vaginal speculum, is well known for the controversies surrounding his work for the repair of vesicovaginal fistula. The treatment was incredibly painful and was also a cause of embarrassment and shame for the women who were affected with it.

James Marion Sims was born on January 25, 1813 in Hanging Rock, Lancaster County, South Carolina. He was the oldest of seven children. He attended what now is known as University of South Carolina and obtained his medical degree from Jefferson medical college, Pennsylvania in 1835. In the year 1845 he moved his practice to Montgomery, Alabama.

This painting by Robert Thom, part of the Great Moments in Medicine series, is the only known representation of Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey, the three enslaved women Sims operated upon. Fair use

From 1845 to 1849 Sims continually ran experiments on enslaved women and his research was conducted on them without anaesthesia. Sims cared more about the experiment than providing therapeutic care and treatment. He caused untold suffering by operating under the racist notion that black people have no pain. His use of the enslaved black bodies as the medical tests subjects. His research is an epitome of grey history in the field of medicine.

In 1849 he used the silver suture for the first successful repair of fistula. Despite a great step forward, the process to develop the Sims’s technique is tainted with unethical research and experimentation methods.

Even though J Marion Sims was a person who broke the medical barrier by developing a technique for the repair of the vesicovaginal fistula but he is infamous for conducting multiple procedures and experiments on the black enslaved women in the 19th century and carried out forced operations on them, thus giving them no way for informed consent prior performing surgeries for his experiments. The women involved in his gruesome experiments faced multiple surgeries without aesthesia. His experiments are widely condemned because of the unethical way it was done on the vulnerable section of the society who were poorly treated.

Sims did inhuman experiments solely on enslaved women in order to develop his skill and technique for repairing this fistula. Though his success is indisputable but Sims’s technique of repairing the vesicovaginal fistula is tainted by his records of performing numerous horrifying and fearful experiments on Black slave women without anaesthesia.

Sims experimented on ten slaves but there are three women whose name Sims recorded, Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey. In 1847, a seventeen year old, Anarcha was the first women to undergo Sim’s experiments and was a prime subject in his trial. Anarcha was in labour for three days when Sims discovered that she is suffering from vesicovaginal fistula. According to his autobiography Anarcha wwnt through thirty surgeries before Sims found success. Though anaesthesia was available in 1846, he never utilized during surgery. Sims claimed that he gave opioid after the surgery but never administered anaesthesia during the surgeries despite hearing their cries. By 1849 Sims had perfected his technique by the use of silver sutures.

Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy are today known as “Mothers of modern of gynaecology”. They represent all women who went through Sims experiments.

Sims’s practice has come to light with debates on his contributions often fiddling on racial discrimination that black Americans felt in the medical system.

Syatue of Jamrs Marion Sims being removed

In April 2018, the statue of J Marion Sims was removed from the central park and installed in Green Wood cemetery near a site of Sims burial.

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Dr. Zareen Fatima

Dr Zareen is an ambitious general dentist working and residing in UAE. She is able to handle multiple tasks on a daily basis. Alongside her busy work schedule, she is a vivid reader, researcher, writer editor and is currently pursuing Masters in Public Health. In her leisure she brings out the forgotten history in the field of medicine and associated disciplines.

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