Author: Maria Guerrero
J. Marion Sims is often credited as the “father of gynecology” and even had a statue dedicated to him (although it is now removed). He is praised for developing speculum, catheter, Sims’ Position, and the vesicovaginal fistula treatment. In fact, it is said he was a well-known surgeon during his time. However, this brings up the question: how did he manage to accomplish such things?
The reasons behind it were rather polarizing and cruel. He utilized black, enslaved women as test subjects from 1845 to 1849. Unfortunately during that time, slaves were seen as inferior to white people, therefore Sims did not need to ask for their consent and they could not reject being experimented on.
He also contributed to the harmful idea that black people do not have the same pain threshold as white people, which is why he never used anesthesia on them. He did, however, use it on white women and even opened a clinic for them. It is currently unknown how many slaves were forced into the procedures during the four year period, but three patients’ names were revealed: Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey.
It has been accounted for that these experiments were traumatizing and excruciating. In his medical notes, he wrote about Lucy writhing in pain during an hour long procedure, which resulted in her getting blood poisoning. He performed thirty procedures on each woman to perfect his technique. Many say he was a product of his time, but many disagree. He also experimented on black children because he thought they had smaller brains and tried to loosen their skulls. He is often compared to the likes of Josef Mengele, who is a Nazi doctor, and the Tuskegee Syphillis Study, a forty year experiment on black people. While his procedures are revolutionary, it did come at the expense of enslaved women who had to withstand his technique.