Medical Bondage: Book Details Roots of Modern Gynecology - Diverse Health

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Medical Bondage: Book Details Roots of Modern Gynecology

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by Rachel Zellars

In her new award-winning book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology, historian Deirdre Cooper Owens describes the experimental work of early American gynecologists, including Dr. James Marion Sims, “the father of modern gynecology.” Beginning in 1844, Sims famously performed his experiments on enslaved women in Alabama, including Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsy, who he leased for the purpose of gynecological experimentation.

Repeatedly performing his crude experiments without any form of anesthesia as he attempted to be the first to repair vesico-vaginal fistulae, Owens writes that, “After five years of medical experimentation, Sims performed his thirtieth surgery on Anarcha and successfully repaired her fistula” (38). “Thanks in large part to his experimentation on enslaved black women,” she adds, “Sims had established himself as one of the country’s preeminent gynecological surgeons less than a decade after he began his gynecological career” (39). Due to these experimental procedures on enslaved Black women and the subsequent rapid advancements in the field of gynecology, Sims eventually served as the president of the American Medical Association in 1875 and the American Gynecological Society in 1879.

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