James Marion Sims (who went by Marion) was born in 1813 in South Carolina. He attended Franklin Academy, then the South Carolina College, then the Medical College of Charleston, and in 1835 he graduated from the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He came home to Lancaster, South Carolina, to establish his own private practice, but had a couple of early setbacks which prompted him to move his practice to Alabama.
He would go on to practice medicine for nearly 50 years, and in his time, contributed tremendously to women’s medicine. As the title of this story indicates, he is considered the father of modern gynecology. His focus on women’s health was revolutionary, given the time. He opened the first ever hospital dedicated to women, the Woman’s Hospital in New York, in 1855, and also the first cancer institute in 1871. Numerous medical devices and procedures are named after him or were designed by him. There are this day several statues and monuments in his honor around the United States, from his home town in South Carolina, his primary practice in Alabama, and in New York, where his statue was the first ever to honor a physician of any kind, let alone one whose focus was on women’s health.
His knowledge of female anatomy and the reproductive system was established primarily through the use of slaves, who were operated on without consent or medication, because they could not feel pain and could not consent as they were not people.
There is no need to re-read that, because I will say it again in another way.
His experimental surgeries without anesthesia on enslaved African-American women who could not consent are considered by many to be unethical.
The most appalling part of that sentence could be without anesthesia, or it could be enslaved, but for me, it’s
Not everyone feels that the nature of his practice, the way he was able to acquire so much knowledge in the amount of time that he did, in the age that he did, was unethical.
Not everyone feels, when considering how things were in Alabama from 1835-1855, when African Americans were routinely treated as things and not people, that to do horrible things to slaves in order to improve the lives of white women wasn’t a net gain. Women barely had rights themselves in those days. For someone to potentially throw away their career chasing women’s health was groundbreaking. If you read more about him, he was quite fond of doing experiments on African American women and infants, and writing up what he learned from their suffering. None of it needs to be repeated. Yet people believe he should be honored, even today, as the medical pioneer that he was.
He should not be honored.
Not today, or any day after.
His statue across from the New York Academy of Medicine should be removed.
His monuments at the capital buildings in Montgomery, Alabama, and Columbia, South Carolina, and at Jefferson Medical College, all need to be removed.
We can continue to know what he learned. We don’t have to erase what we gained. There is no need to continue to honor his legacy. No one should ever again walk their little girl beside his statue and say, “there’s a man who tortured slaves for the greater good. What a great man.”
He contributed to medical knowledge, sure.
He was never a great man. He was a horrible person, and as long as we continue to respect horrible people, it will only serve to encourage others to be horrible people, or at least let them think that doing horrible things really isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things.
Do you know who else did medical experiments on people who they felt weren’t really people?
And no matter what our so-called pr*sident may think, none of them were fine people, either.