NYC Removes Statue Honoring 19th Century Surgeon Who Experimented On Female Slaves

The city voted to move a statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, the "father of modern gynecology," from Central Park to his burial site in Brooklyn.

New York City workers removed a Central Park statue on Tuesday commemorating Dr. J. Marion Sims, a 19th-century surgeon who made significant advances in gynecology at the expense of enslaved black women.

Sims, widely regarded as the “father of modern gynecology,” established the first hospital for women in New York City in 1855. He invented the speculum and pioneered a surgical technique for repairing a vesicovaginal fistula, a complication of obstructed childbirth. 

But Sims’ advancements were developed after performing experimental surgeries on female slaves without anesthesia and, some experts say, without consent. These trials were grave ethical violations, according to many historians and social justice activists.

“While some may have thought Dr. J Marion Sims was a pioneer, we know that his work was highly unethical and deeply racist,” New York City Public Advocate Letitia James tweeted Tuesday. “A monument to recognize a serial torturer of enslaved black women has no place in our city & today action is being taken to finally remove it.”

The NYC Public Design Commission on Monday voted unanimously in favor of moving the Sims monument from Central Park to his burial site at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The bronze statue, previously held upon a granite base in the park, will rest on a low pedestal in the cemetery, The New York Times reported.

The commission’s decision came roughly eight months after Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered a review of all “symbols of hate” in the city following a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Sims’ statue was the target of a protest in August organized by Black Youth Project 100, an activist group founded in 2013. A photo of four women protesters wearing bloody hospital gowns to symbolize Sims’ disturbing experiments went viral.

“Black women continue to suffer worse health outcomes than white women,” Seshat Mack, an organizer of the protest, told HuffPost in August. “The institution of reproductive health was built on the exploitation of black women, but this very institution continues to underserve black women.”

This story has been updated to replace a hyperlink to an article being cited on ethical questions in Sims’ work.