James Marion Sims developed pioneering tools and surgical techniques related to women’s reproductive health by operating on black female slaves without anesthesia. He performed many gynecological experiments.
In his own words, “There was never a time that I could not, at any day, have had a subject for operation.”
He first operated on an 18-year-old slave. She was completely naked, perched on her knees, bent forward on her elbows in an hour-long surgery while screaming and crying out in pain (agony was extreme).
He once performed 30 operations on one 17-year-old slave woman, in like manner.
With full support by the community, he moved on to experimenting with surgery on slave children. He would operate on children using a shoemaker’s tool to pry their bones apart and loosen their skulls. These experiments had a 100% fatality rate.
Sims later moved to New York to found a Woman’s Hospital, where he performed fistula surgery on white women without anesthesia. Sims said that he never used anesthesia for fistula surgery “because they are not painful enough to justify the trouble and risk attending their administration”.
J. Marion Sims is celebrated as a hero of science.
Sims fame and wealth are evident in his tributes:
- Statue in New York’s Central Park
- Statue in Columbia, South Carolina
- Statue in Alabama State Capitol, Montgomery
- Member of the Historical Society of New York
- Permanent Member of the New York State Medical Society
- Painting entitled ‘Medical Giants of Alabama’
- Historical marker where he was born
- Historical marker at his home
- J. Marion Sims Foundation in Lancaster, South Carolina