Friday, January 29


Anarcha was an African American slave woman. She was one of the seventy-five slaves who worked the Wescott plantation, just on the outskirts of Montgomery, Alabama.
Anarcha went into labor one day. Three days later, she was still in labor. Dr Marion Sims was called in to assist the delivery. He writes in his autobiography that he used forceps on the fetus’s head but that he really didn’t know what he was doing since he’d had so little experience with the device. We don’t know whether the baby survived the ordeal. We do know that the mother experienced several vaginal tears from the birthing. She became incontinent afterwards due to the damage.
A few days later, the master of the plantation sent Anarcha to Dr Sims hoping he could repair the damage to his slave, as she could not hold her bowls or bladder. As her master’s chattel, her condition reduced her value considerably.
Sims took in the patient reluctantly. He put her up on his examination table, on her hands and knees and, using a modified pewter spoon to expand the walls of her vagina, he accidentally released the pressure that held her uterus in an awkward position. Anarcha felt immediate relief as the change in air pressure helped her uterus to relocate back into its proper position.
Through an agreement with her master, Anarcha became Dr Sims’s guinea pig. She regularly underwent surgical experiments, while positioned on Sims’s table, squatting on all fours, and fully awake without the comfort of any anesthesia. It was commonly accepted that African Americans had a higher tolerance for pain than their white counterparts. Commonly accepted but utterly wrong.
Anarcha’s fistula (from her vaginal tears) was repaired by Sims. Sims thus became the leading expert in repairing this damage that seemed to occur in a good number of births by slave women. Though Sims was sent many slave women with fistulas, we know from his biography that he experimented repeatedly on Anarcha, as well as two other slaves, Betsy and Lucy.
Anarcha was experimented upon, and drugged up later, not to ease her pain as much as to stifle her moans. It has been calculated that she had been operated on, perhaps, 34 times. She, Betsy, Lucy, and countless others helped Dr Sims hone his techniques and create his gynecological tools. Though on display in museums, many of Dr Sims’s tools have modern counterparts that are used today.
Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy left no written legacy. Slaves were forbidden to read and write, a crime punishable by death.
And though science today looks back on Sims’s work ambiguously, truly unsure as to his level of success, or whether he should be credited as the father of gynecology, we now know who the mothers of modern gynecology were: they were the nameless and faceless slave women upon whom Dr Sims experimented.
Today we have just three names: Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy. It is our hope that these names will never be forgotten.

Anarcha The Mother of Gynocology



Sad, Powerful, thought provoking......

Steph said...

This actually touched upon in the book "medical apartheid". I think Washington devotes a chapter or two to this subject and how slave women were made to kneel on all fours while the doctor attempted to fix them and show off what he did to other students/doctors. It was all very interesting.

Nell said...

awesome awesome post.
i read about J. Marion Sims not too long ago in a book- 'Medical Apartheid'.
i really appreciate and applaud you for making this post. i'm currently reading a book entitled 'We Are Your Sister: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century' edited by Dorothy Sterling.
i don't think many people truly think about the conditions enslaved women (as well as all those enslaved, but particularly women) had to go through simply because they do not know. my friend did an essay on the forced sterilization on women of color 2 or 3 months ago, and that was the first i heard about anything of this sort.
why is it that this type of information is kept from our textbooks and school curriculum? from our recollections of slavery during black history month and the like? these facts need to be known by everyone, so that these women (Betsey, Anarcha, and Lucy) are shown the little respect that can be provided for them at this point, so that we as people of color do not forget what was done to our ancestors, and so we know as women, that we are the strongest creatures on this earth.
thank you sister for an enlightening post.

GorgeousPuddin said...

This post was very profound and thought provoking. My aunt was a victim of forced sterilization here in the state of California in 1970. She was 16 years old. Someone made the decision to prevent her from ever having anymore children and whatever was done to her also prevented the daughter that was born to her from ever having children. No one has ever mentioned this outside of our family. But it is time for us to speak up about these type of atrocities that have happened to women of color. Thanks for sharing.

sumaya said...

wow. that was powerful to say the least. it's always interesting to learn what the history/science books leave out/erase. it's a shame we're forced to learn these lies in childhood only to reteach ourselves when we grow up.