Doctor Who Mutilated and Tortured Black Women Honored Around America

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In the Alabama State Capitol building, a painting portraying Doctor James Marian Sims, who held the Presidency of the American Medical Association from 1876 to 1877 and established America’s first cancer institute, hangs in tribute to him.

A Painting by Robert Thom, part of the Great Moments in Medicine series representing Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey, three slaves Sims operated upon.

On the grounds of the South Carolina State House, a stone monument stands in honor of the famed physician, notable for groundbreaking gynecological tools and procedures, including surgically assisted childbirth. Additionally, a State Health Department building, also in the South Carolina capitol is named for the doctor.

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A state health department building in Columbia, South Carolina, bears Sims’ name. [ Image Credit: Michael Pronzato ]
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The Monument to James Marion Sims at the South Carolina State House in Columbia, SC. [ Image by Billy Hathorn ]

In New York City, yet another statue of the famed Dr. Sims was removed in 2018 after a series of protests.

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A Monument in New York City’s Central Park was removed only after Black Women protested.

As the nation continues to hold up Dr. Sims as a hero of women for his contributions to medicine over 100 years ago, a renewed focus has been placed on his monstrous practices. While few may have heard of the revered phsyician, even fewer know of his history as a sadist- not because the information does not exist, but because it has been more convenient for modern leaders to turn the other cheek.

In fact, while his unethical, inhumane practices have been well documented, little attention has been given to the grim reality and devastating consequences of his approach to medicine, more specifically, his barbaric and violent mutilation of Black enslaved women whom he regarded as mere animals upon which he conducted brutal and gruesome experiments.

Sims was most certainly a murderer, and it is likely that many slave women- undocumented in historic medical records- died of complications from his malpractice.

He tortured innocent black women on his surgical table. Using primitive tools and no anesthetic, he sterilized them, mutilated their genitalia, removed their reproductive organs, cut into their flesh and tissue with a cold scalpel while they lay before their tormentor, restrained, legs splayed apart.

I the beginning of his career, Sims had many failed attempts in his gory experimentation but continued to acquire access to female slaves for his practices. According to historians, Sims even trained other female slaves to “Physically hold down…” his subjects as he butchered them. His first victim was a slave girl named Lucy, who suffered unfathomable agony at the hands of the doctor. Early documents state:

“That was before the days of anesthetics, and the poor girl [Lucy], on her knees, bore the operation with great heroism and bravery. I had about a dozen doctors there to witness the series of experiments I expected to perform… At the end of five days [Lucy] was very ill. She had fever, frequent pulse, and real blood-poisoning, but we did not know what to call it at that day and time.”

Lucy was provided no compassion or relief from her suffering.

Sims had no regard for the life of the black women he destroyed, believing, according to, that Black people were intellectually inferior due to “Their skulls growing to quickly around their brains,” and that the women he abused were incapable of feeling pain.

Speaking to USA Today Vanessa Northington Gamble, a professor at George Washington University, told reporter Sarah Lynch, that between 1846 and 1849, the doctor operated on at least 10 female slaves without anesthesia, with one enslaved woman known as Anarcha, suffering through an unimaginable 30 surgical sessions.

After perfecting an array of surgical procedures focusing on gynecology, Sims moved his practice from Montgomery, Alabama and traveled Europe, teaching his techniques to other physicians and operating solely on white women- to whom he proved anesthesia in the form of opium.

Worse is how, despite the awareness of the deadly doctor’s practices, America has elevated him, idolated him and created shrines in his name for centuries. From stone pillars, he looks down upon black women every day in the south that fought to keep them in chains. The honoring of such a sinister figure stands out as a chilling reminder that Black Americans are still forced to exist in a world where their historical murderers and abusers are glorified.

These women, some whose names we know, some who remain invisible figures, victims of a madman, deserve to be acknowledged and given credit for their contributions to medical advancements- these women suffered horrific trials at the mercy of a psychopath so that we, today, could have remedy, yet they are never credited.

They deserve the honor. They deserve the monuments.

They deserve our attention and awareness.

Every women who has benefited from gynecological treatment owes their thanks, not to this doctor, but to the Black enslaved women who were forcibly subjected to the gruesome experiments of a dangerous man.

Written by

Actor, Filmmaker, LGBTQ+ & Women’s Rights Activist All work copyright

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