Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude
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Black News and Black Views with a Whole Lotta Attitude

Alabama Honors 3 Black Women Whose Bodies Were Subjected to Experimental Surgery

The three enslaved women, who were victims of famed gynecologist Dr. J. Marion Sims, are immortalized in a statue called the "Mothers of Gynecology."

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The Alabama flag flies over the the Alabama State Capitol on May 15, 2019 in Montgomery, Alabama.
The Alabama flag flies over the the Alabama State Capitol on May 15, 2019 in Montgomery, Alabama.
Photo: Julie Bennett/Getty Images (Getty Images)

If you make it to Montgomery, Ala., you’ll want to pay a visit to the state’s newest monument dedicated to three Black women whose bodies were experimented on by a 19th century doctor best known for advancing women’s health.

Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey, the names of the three statues that represent the “Mothers of Gynecology,” were unveiled Friday. They represent three of the women Dr. J. Marion Sims operated on while in Montgomery, the Associated Press reports. The three statues stand almost 15 feet high and were made from common metal items—including tools, bicycle parts, and surgical and gynecological instruments—which were donated to the project.

“The endeavor is to change the narrative as it relates to the history and how it’s portrayed regarding Sims and the women that were used as experiments,” said Michelle Browder, the artist who created the monument. “They’re not mentioned in any of the iconography or the information, the markers.”

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Sims is considered to be a pioneer in the field of gynecology and credited with developing medical devices and a surgical technique to treat a complication of childbirth. His dirty work came when he conducted experimental surgery without anesthesia on enslaved Black American women between 1845 and 1849.

Keep in mind that anesthesia was pretty new at the time. The first public demonstration using ether was in Boston in 1846. We have long known that Black bodies have been used for medical experimentation (think the Tuskegee experiments and Henrietta Lacks), but the unveiling of this monument shows us we may never know how many Black women were abused for the sake of advancing science.

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Many of the Black women Sims operated on are not known. In 2018, New York City officials voted to remove a bronze star of the famed doctor in Central Park and moved it to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where Sims is buried.

That said, you can find a statue of Sims at the Alabama State House in Montgomery.

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“No one talks about these women and their sacrifices and the experimentations that they suffered,” Browder said. “And so I feel that if you’re going to tell the truth about this history, we need to tell it all.”