After unveiling her groundbreaking monument last Mother’s Day, artist Michelle Browder is expanding upon her work around the “Mothers of Gynecology,” with the opening of a museum and clinic built in their honor.
At 18 years old as a student in Atlanta, Browder came across a 1952 painting of J. Marion Sims, a man considered to be the “Father of Gynecology” — given this moniker for the horrendous experiments he conducted on Black women to support his research. After conducting research of her own, young Browder learned that the three women depicted in the painting alongside Sims were named Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey.
“They were girls, just a year maybe younger than me at the time,” said Browder, 51, of the three women, PEOPLE reports. “The look on their faces, I was troubled so bad.”
She later dubbed the women as the “Mothers of Gynecology.”
“It was a crime against humanity,” the Alabama native said of Sims’ experiments on his patients. “Often these girls would have to hold each other down. Lucy had 12 surgeries and it nearly killed her — there are reports of her screaming in pain.”
It is reported that Sims believed that Black people did not experience pain, and for this reason conducted his experiments without the use of anesthesia. According to recent studies, many medical students and doctors still share this sentiment.
Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey all served as inspiration for Browder (who is a trained welder) to construct the “Mothers of Gynecology” monument that now stands in Montgomery, Alabama. The exhibit serves as a response to a statue of Sims that still stands in front of the state capitol building. Another statue of Sims was removed in 2018 that once stood in New York City’s Central Park.
“When I’d see that statue of Sims, I was infuriated,” said Browder. “How can this one person be elevated and amplified and heralded as the father of modern gynecology but there’s no mention of these enslaved women, girls that were raped and trafficked? I said, ‘I’m going to change that. I’m going to erect a monument’.”
The three young women were offered to Sims by their plantation owners after traumatic child birthing experiences left them unable to bear more children.
“J. Marion Sims represents so much more than just a medical practitioner that believed that Black folks had a high tolerance for pain, but he also represents systemic racism, whether it’s in health care, whether it’s in government,” Browder, told the Montgomery Advertiser.
Now, Browder continues to honor the sacrifices made by these women with the opening of the $5.5 million dollar Mothers of Gynecology Health and Wellness Clinic. According to PEOPLE, the space will also host a museum that educates visitors about the mothers, and will also train doulas and midwives.
“It’s a museum that teaches the history of gynecology but also has a primary care unit upstairs where medical students from around this country can come,” Browder told the Advertiser. “If there are some uninsured women that need support, we’re going to be able to give them that.”
Browder also shares that the building will include a mural on its side depicting a naked Sims on an exam table surrounded by empowered renderings of Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey. The groundbreaking for the museum and clinic will take place during Mother’s Day, 2023.