Alabama statues honor slaves subject to experimental surgery

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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — A new monument in Montgomery pays tribute to three enslaved Black women who were subjected to experimental surgery by a 19th century physician celebrated for advancing women's health.

The statues of Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey — three of numerous Black women Dr. J. Marion Sims operated on while in Montgomery — were unveiled Friday, al.com reported.

Entitled “Mothers of Gynecology,” the three statues stand almost 15 feet (4.6 meters) high and were welded from common metal items donated for the project, including tools, bicycle parts, and surgical and gynecological instruments, according to the news site.

“The endeavor is to change the narrative as it relates to the history and how it’s portrayed regarding Sims and the women that were used as experiments,” said Michelle Browder, the artist who created the monument. “They’re not mentioned in any of the iconography or the information, the markers.”

Sims is held up as a pioneer in the field of gynecology, credited with developing new medical devices and a surgical technique to treat a complication of childbirth. But he also conducted experimental surgery without anesthesia on enslaved African-American women between 1845 and 1849.

Anesthesia was still very new at the time — the first public demonstration, using ether, was in Boston in 1846.

The names of many black women on whom Sims operated are unknown. New York City officials in 2018 voted to remove a bronze statue of Sims in Central Park and relocate it to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, where Sims is buried.

A statue of Sims still stands at the Alabama State House in Montgomery.

“No one talks about these women and their sacrifices and the experimentations that they suffered,” Browder said. “And so I feel that if you’re going to tell the truth about this history, we need to tell it all.”

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