J. Marion Sims, the Father of Gynecology: Hero or Villain?

Jeffrey S. Sartin, MD


South Med J. 2004;97(5) 

In This Article


One cannot escape the implication that if it were not for Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy, and the other unknown slave women undergoing dozens of operations without anesthesia while under bondage to Sims, he would have ended up an anonymous practitioner in Alabama. This dependence of the southern professional on chattel slavery was exemplified by J. Marion Sims no less than the masters of cotton plantations. The stain of the most shameful portion of America's heritage cannot be whitewashed when we consider his place in history, even as we recognize his many accomplishments.

J. Marion Sims was simultaneously a man of his time and a man ahead of his time. While it might be concluded that his place in history results from the latter, and any ethical questions arise from the former, the truth is complicated. Though modern critics may not wish to remove Sims' monuments from their current homes, they would not be remiss in asking to have monuments erected beside them to Lucy, Betsey and Anarcha.