A compelling reckoning with the birth of women’s health that illuminates the sacrifices of a young woman who changed the world only to be forgotten by it–until now
For more than a century, Dr. J. Marion Sims was hailed as the “father of modern gynecology.” He founded a hospital in New York City and had a profitable career treating gentry and royalty in Europe, becoming one of the world’s first celebrity surgeons. Statues were built in his honor, but he wasn’t the hero he had made himself appear to be.
Sims’s greatest medical claim was the result of several years of experimental surgeries–without anesthesia–on a young enslaved woman known as Anarcha; his so-called cure for obstetric fistula forever altered the path of women’s health.
One medical text after another hailed Anarcha as the embodiment of the pivotal role that Sims played in the history of surgery. Decades later, a groundswell of women objecting to Sims’s legacy celebrated Anarcha as the “mother of gynecology.” Little was known about the woman herself. The written record would have us believe Anarcha disappeared; she did not.
Through tenacious research, J. C. Hallman has unearthed the first evidence of Anarcha’s life that did not come from Sims’s suspect reports. Hallman reveals that after helping to spark a patient-centered model of care that continues to improve women’s lives today, Anarcha lived on as a midwife, nurse, and “doctor woman.”
Say Anarcha excavates history, deconstructing the biographical smoke screen of a surgeon who has falsely been enshrined as a medical pioneer and bringing forth a heroic Black woman to her rightful place at the center of the creation story of modern women’s health care.