Greenwood Heights

NYC moving controversial doc statue to Green-Wood

Dr. J. Marion Sims Experimented on Slaves, Founded First Woman’s Hospital

January 12, 2018 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
This statue of J. Marion Sims, who operated on black women slaves without anesthesia, will be moving from Central Park to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery following outcry about Sims’ historical legacy.  Photo courtesy of the NYC Parks Department

Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Friday that the city will move the statue of a 19th century doctor who experimented on female slaves from its pedestal in Central Park to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, where the doctor is buried.

The city is relocating the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, currently at Fifth Avenue and 103 Street, after a study identified it as one of the city’s “symbols of hate.” Sims operated on black women without anesthesia, assuming that black women didn’t feel as much pain as white women. His experimental procedures also caused the death of numerous black babies.

Sims legacy is not entirely black and white, however. According to The Journal of Medical Ethics, some of the enslaved women encouraged him to proceed, because they were determined to have their debilitating medical afflictions cured. He went on to found the Woman’s Hospital, the first hospital for women in the United States, followed by America’s first cancer institute, New York Cancer Hospital.

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De Blasio said he is making the change following consideration of the recommendations and guidelines laid out by the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers.

Other monuments included in the study — including Christopher Columbus at Columbus Circle — will stay in place but will have historical markers added to explain the context of the memorials.

After it’s installed at Green-Wood, the mayor said the city will take additional steps to inform the public about the history of the statue, including the legacy of non-consensual medical experimentation on women of color. Informational plaques will be added both to the relocated statue and existing pedestal.

In addition, the city will commission new artwork to sit on the existing Sims pedestal — for example, a prominent woman of color in science and medicine.

The city will also partner with a community organization to promote “public dialogues” on the frightening history of medical experimentation of people of color, particularly women.

Sims has been referred to as “the father of modern gynecology” for medical breakthroughs in treating vesicovaginal fistula, which results from difficult childbirths. The commission notes, however, that the extent of his medical advances with regard to treating the fistula “remains under dispute.”

While his medical discoveries may or may not have been significant, “There is no question about the abuse of the women he experimented upon,” the commission’s report says. Medical records record some of the slaves’ names as Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy, according to the New York Times.

Other memorials considered by the commission include a Canyon of Heroes/Henri Philippe Pétain plaque (Broadway, Lower Manhattan); the before-mentioned statue of Columbus; and the Theodore Roosevelt statue (American Museum of Natural History).

These monuments will stay in place but will be updated with additional signage and educational programming. The Department of Cultural Affairs is exploring commissioning a new artwork as well.


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