Horrific History: Father of Gynecology Developed Techniques By Operating On Black Female Slaves Without Anesthesia!

Posted: September 10, 2013 in Uncategorized
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J. Marion Sims (1813-1883) practiced medicine in central Alabama from 1835 to 1849. He is often credited with being the “father of gynecology,” but his methods and practices caused great      controversy regarding his place in medical history. During his Alabama years he developed medical and surgical techniques      and tools that revolutionized the new field of gynecology and through them had a successful career in New York and Europe.      Critics, however, point out that Sims’s experimental surgeries, which were performed on enslaved women subjected to forced      treatment, caused great suffering and helped to prop up the institution of slavery. Sims thus remains a controversial figure      in medical history, despite his contributions to the field.   

James Marion Sims was born on January 25, 1813, in Hanging Rock, Lancaster County, South Carolina, to Jack Sims and Mahala      Mackey Sims. He was the oldest of seven children. His family first had a small farm, then an inn in Lancaster, S.C. He attended      South Carolina College and in 1835 earned a medical degree from Philadelphia’s Jefferson Medical College. Upon graduation,      Sims opened a practice in Lancaster. His new practice failed within the year after two infants under his treatment died, and      he set out for the frontier region of western Alabama. He settled in Macon County, where he earned a living treating slaves on the local plantations. In his autobiography, The Story of My Life, Sims described his rural practice as carrying a gun and riding a pony, his dog running along side.


Under the authority of three local plantation masters, Sims performed experimental surgeries primarily on three enslaved women,      Lucy, Betsey, and Anarcha, as well as various others, during the course of nearly four years. Anarcha, for example, had given      birth at 17 after laboring for three days. Sims used forceps to end the ordeal, and found that she suffered from VVF in the      aftermath. In 1849, after some 30 surgeries, all of which were performed without anesthesia, Sims claimed he had cured her.

Sims operated repeatedly without success on patients who had no say in the decision-making process that led up to their surgeries.      He used opium to render them addicted and immobile. During the course of these and other surgeries on female patients, Sims      developed a new type of speculum, which allowed him greater access to the areas most affected by VVF and VRF. This tool, called      the Sims duck-billed speculum, is still in use today. Despite the controversy surrounding Sims’s methods, the medical innovations      and techniques he developed during his Montgomery days, including the speculum, the Sims position (which allows greater visibility      for the doctor) and the Sims sigmoid catheter, revolutionized the new field of gynecology.



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