ANARCHA, 2014, grosgrain ribbon, metallic embroidery floss, vintage obstetrics textbook, and velvet, 40 x 20 inches

ANARCHA, 2014, grosgrain ribbon, metallic embroidery floss, vintage obstetrics textbook, and velvet, 40 x 20 inches

Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey

Dr. J. Marion Sims, the “father of modern gynecology,” bought and rented slaves and performed experiments on their vaginas, in an attempt to find a cure for the vesico-vaginal fistula.  Sims experimented on at least ten female slaves and chose not to provide anesthesia to them, even though it had recently become available.

In Sims’ autobiography, he revealed the names of three women he experimented on: Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey.  Anarcha was seventeen years old when she gave birth to her first child and developed a fistula.  Sims operated on her 30 different times without anesthesia.  

Sims’ work has been celebrated by the medical community for 170 years, but what is missing from most of the textbooks he is mentioned in is the suffering he put female slaves through in order to discover a cure for the fistula.  Generation upon generation of medical students learned about Sims without knowing the truth about Anarcha, Lucy, Betsey, or the other women on whom he experimented.

An accompanying performance element to this work includes my visiting libraries and checking out old
obstetrics textbooks from medical schools.  I return every book that fails to mention Anarcha, Lucy, or Betsey, with a typed “footnote” inserted into the book, which explains the truth about Sim’s work.