The Creepy, Awful Father Of Gynecology

“Wherever there is a human being, I see God-given rights inherent in that being, whatever may be the sex or complexion.” —William Lloyd Garrison

In A Nutshell

J. Marion Sims was a doctor in the 1800s and is widely recognized as the world’s first gynecologist. However, it later came to light that he was not only a misogynistic pig, but he also experimented on slaves to further his medical knowledge. His legacy was called into question in the 1970s, when America was going through the upheaval of attempting to equalize racial and sexual rights.

The Whole Bushel

Born in South Carolina in 1813, J. Marion Sims was a thoroughly unremarkable man who seemed destined to accomplish nothing. Fate intervened in the guise of a young woman he met in 1845 who was suffering from a prolapsed uterus, which was a result of childbirth. She came to Dr. Sims for help, and he instructed the young woman to kneel on the ground and move her chest toward her knees, while he stood behind her. This afforded him a good view of what the birth had done to her vagina, and Dr. Sims knew then what he wanted to do with his life. (He’s off to a creepy start, obviously.)

Women of his day were rather commonly afflicted with vesicovaginal fistulas, holes which formed in the vaginal walls, usually during childbirth. These women, in addition to the pain they endured, also suffered from a constant leak of urine into their vaginas, something described as “a most intolerable stench” by a fellow physician of Dr. Sims’ time. He felt the position he had had his other female patient lie in would give him a better view and allow him to fix the vesicovaginal fistulas. Dr. Sims also invented the Sims speculum, a medical instrument used to gain a better view into a patient’s vagina. But first, he had to perfect his method. To accomplish this, Dr. Sims purchased slaves.

It was said he operated on as many as 10 women but that three of them, solely known as Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsy, were operated on multiple times. His own medical records show that he operated on Anarcha on at least 30 separate occasions. In addition to the forced surgeries these women had to endure, Dr. Sims refused to use anesthesia, even though it had been commonplace since the early part of the 18th century. Some of his fellow physicians urged him to stop, but Sims claimed the slaves wanted to take part in his experiments, that they had been “clamorous” for the operation. After successfully completing the surgery on the slaves he had purchased, Dr. Sims proceeded to cure Caucasian women, who were no doubt grateful he hadn’t experimented on them. After his success, and later after his death, Dr. Sims was celebrated as a pioneer in the new field of gynecology and even has various statues dedicated to him.

The first doctor to question Dr. Sims’ medical history in later years was Dr. Graham J. Barker-Benfield, a historian at Trinity College, who wrote in 1974 that the women Dr. Sims experimented on “endured years of almost unimaginable agonies.” Durrenda Ojanuga, writing in the Journal of Medical Ethics, referred to Dr. Sims’ work as “a classic example of the evils of slavery and the misuse of human subjects for medical research.” Most scholars now view his legacy along the lines of Dr. Mengele and the other infamous doctors of history: a source of knowledge no doubt, but a source which carries a heavy ethical price if one wishes to use the information.

Show Me The Proof

NY Times: Scholars Argue Over Legacy of Surgeon Who Was Lionized, Then Vilified
The medical ethics of Dr J Marion Sims: a fresh look at the historical record
Encyclopedia of Alabama: J. Marion Sims

  • Jacob

    Ahhhh…. Nothing like reading about the development of vagina surgery as I begin my day.

  • old_cowboy

    I suppose all of history and all knowledge prior to 1865 should bem abandoned…..this anachronistic witch burning is ridiculous and a display of idiocy. Should we dismantle our national buildings erected by slaves? How old is this author? Has the placenta dried?

    • inconspicuous detective

      there is a difference between wanting to see idols removed and statues taken down to keeping fresh in our minds the wrongs of those who we have treated as saints. in less formal terms, the guy was an arse who did some pretty messed up stuff. we shouldn’t just forget that because we ended up benefiting from his work later.

      • hrg2

        I believe he was only referring to the knowledge and not the man himself.

        • Logan Rieck

          He mentioned anachronistic witch burning being ridiculous which would be about this article that attacks this man specifically.

          He was talking sarcastically that since this guy was bad then his works must be bad because he failed to comprehend that we can still benefit from his work even if it was done in an evil way and not just toss it aside because he was evil therefore it must be gotten rid of as if infected.

          He was just tired of articles that attacked people but made an error through sarcasm that was reproved.



    • tyrranicide-rex

      We used to joke as women never to marry a gynecologist for the same reason you don’t marry a mechanic…because after working on engines all day he will never want to work on his own car. 🙂

    • TJ

      I guess that is a lot better then being a Proctologist, wouln’t you say? 🙂

  • blazelux

    Ha vagina

  • Laura Sanchez

    I would never, ever accept a male gynecologist no matter how well trained; that’s just weird. Men don’t even HAVE vaginas, they shouldn’t be allowed!! I know I must be the only girl in the world that feels this way, but male gynecologists just come off as perverted creeps to me.

    • Nallia

      You’re an idiot.

      • Laura Sanchez

        if your mother, sister, and yourself were raped by men then you’d feel the SAME way

        • ElBandito

          Um. No.

          My mother was a rape survivor, and the difference is, she could tell that not every single man on the planet was the same person who attacked her.

          You’re lucky to live in a society that has a CHOICE to choose doctors. You’re lucky that a gynecologist is an actual occupation in your town! YOU get to say, “I’m actually not comfortable with having a male gynecologist examining me. May I have a female doctor attend me later?”.

          But you don’t get to shame others for feeling your reasons as illogical.
          A person may have a vagina and may still be extremely ignorant about them. They CHOOSE to be this way, which is why you may have many female midwives or nurses who are accused of negligence, malpractice and actual ignorance in treating their female patients. Many girls who were descended from multiple races were treated horribly by female practitioners, because people assume they’re ‘stronger’ and ‘can take the pain’ than a white patient.

          I was raised in a town that once had a scandal where a 16 year old girl was physically abused by a female nurse while giving birth. She was not offered an epidural, despite the hospital being publicly funded. She was not offered any alternate means of anesthetics. The nurse who attended her also didn’t wear rubber gloves, and was only working with two trainee nurses who were absolutely untrained in midwifery. Every time the girl cried, sobbed and yelled out in pain, she was insulted and told to ‘toughen up’. The trainee nurses said that when the girl cried out that she couldn’t feel below her waist (which meant that she might be suffering a slipped disk in her SPINE), the head nurse leaned back and slapped her thighs hard enough to bruise her, then told her to shut up and push.

          The girl came from a Romanian ‘Traveler group’. She actually suffered real physical and mental damage from her ordeal, and the head nurse had NO real or coherent answer to explain her actions.

          Personally I’ll take any doctor so long as they’re qualified and empathetic enough to remember their job and their patients’ RIGHTS to be treated safely and with utmost consideration. Is my gynecologist a female? I don’t care unless she’s qualified. Even if she’s a lesbian that gets turned on by vaginas, she gets to be on my list if she’s damn good at her job. Same goes for every qualified straight or gay male, trans or hermaphrodite doctor.

          I am SORRY that you’re a rape survivor, and that your mother and sister are too. You don’t deserve what had happened to you and you have every right to reject any doctor on your own personal opinion. That’s the beauty of it, you can work out your treatments in your own way.
          But many rape survivors (like my mother) choose male physicians. That doesn’t make her an idiot or not ‘getting’ the truth about men. There are even male and trans victims of rape, and somehow they had to work out how to cope in having a normal life again after their own attacks. My grandfather was raped at 12 at knifepoint, they never got to find his attacker and he did live his childhood looking over his shoulder in fear. He never wishes the same experience on other people, and he’d never expect people ‘ignorant’ for not having the same mentality as he does.

    • Эрин Уильямс

      Do you really believe that men are only in it for seeing ‘vaginas’? Gynocologists don’t just look at vaginas all day; do your research. Have you thought for one second that gynecologists, male or female, want to help women bring their children into the world?

      • Laura Sanchez

        No. 3 generations of my family were all victims of sex crimes, and I do NOT trust strangers with my body, no matter what rank or profession they hold.

        • whaaa


    • Jessikah

      I ALWAYS felt this way and I’ve never been sexually attacked by a man. I just get the heebie-jeebies thinking about some strange guy looking at my naked body and sticking his fingers up inside me. I’ve always asked for female gynocologists but one time I got a gay male because they had no females…that was a bit, uh, weird. But it’s EXTREMELY hard to talk to a male gynocologist about what I am feeling knowing he can’t relate. It’s just a very creepy and uncomfortable position to be in. I remember when my mother was taking me to my first gyno appointment and I was nervous as all hell and she said when she was young, almost ALL gynocologists were male. I was completely horrified by this prospect and was intensely grateful that I live in a day where there are female ones!

  • ElBandito

    This is a pretty terrifying fact. It does go to show how our racist doctrines from yesteryear can completely dehumanize a group of people.

  • miariche

    We should respect people who have been raped, they might not be wright, but it may be their way to express their pain and suffering. Those who know better must educate others, I agree, but do not see these people as enemies but as victims.

  • miariche

    Hey old-cowboy,
    If we can benefit from evil experiments, then they should be using your mother or your children for experiments in the labs, and not rats. Don’t you think?