Professor Durba Mitra‘s graduate class, Gender and History, had a discussion about gender and sexuality in the landscape of New York City next to the statue of J. Marion Sims, the so-called “Father of Gynecology” in Harlem. From 1845-1949, Sims carried out experimental surgeries on slave women to address the issue of persistent fistula after protracted labor in childbirth. He conducted these procedures on slave women without the use of anesthetics, believing that slave women did not need anesthesia for pain relief. While he is memorialized in a statue at 103rd Street and 5th Avenue for his innovative surgical techniques and his contribution to NYC medical institutions, his commitment to slavery and his use of slave women for experimentation is less well known. The memorial bears no marks of this history.
Durba Mitra writes:
Our class discussed the history of J. Marion Sims and debated whether he should be memorialized and how the statue might be amended to reflect the history of US slavery, slave women, and scientific knowledge. Our conversation also explored landmark studies of gender and sexuality in New York City, including Christine Stansell’s City of Women and George Chauncey’s Gay New York. We explored the significance of space in defining gendered relations of power and the innovations of leading scholars in rethinking histories of urbanization, capitalism, sexual relations, and gendered relations of power.
Below: The Class Discusses the legacy of J. Marion Sims near the memorial dedicated to him in Central Park: