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Title: Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy, and the women whose names were not recorded: the legacy of J Marion Sims
Authors: Cronin, M
Keywords: History
Issue Date: 29-Nov-2020
Abstract: In April 2018, a statue commemorating J Marion Sims was removed from Central Park, New York, and relocated to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where he is buried. In 1849, Sims developed a repeatable surgical solution for obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition caused by prolonged, obstructed labour, which damages the vaginal wall, resulting in permanent leakage via the vagina from either the bowel or bladder and sometimes both. Initially, Sims appears worthy of widespread adulation. There are several commemorative statues of him, he has been afforded the title of the 'father of modern gynaecology', and for 37 years, the American Urogynecological Society held an annual eponymous lecture, among other honours. Obstetric fistula rendered women social pariahs, unable to engage fully in either domestic or public life. Sims was able to create a reliably repeatable surgical solution but did so through ongoing experimentation on enslaved women. One of these women, Anarcha, was operated on at least 30 times without the use of anaesthesia over a four-year period, despite the availability of anaesthesia for the majority of the experimentation period. Over 170 years later, Sims' story retains its relevance because it represents a clear point at which race, gender and class intersect with medicine. This paper will use Sims' own account to drive the narrative, then examine matters of agency, ethics and consent that come from it, to show that his work, and subsequent renown, were only possible because of the inherent violence of chattel slavery and other systemic forms of oppression.
DOI: 10.1177/0310057X20966606
ORCID: 0000-0002-9622-0440
PubMed URL:
ISSN: 0310-057X
Journal Title: Anaesthesia and Intensive Care
Type: Journal Article
Study/Trial: Study
Appears in Collections:Scholarly and Clinical

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