How can I talk about what it is that we should not forget? Already, ‘naming' makes complex my task of writing: the three names and title of Dr. James Marion Sims, together with the ‘father of gynecology' label given to him, outweigh Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey, the first names of the three women we know, with many others lost to history, their names unrecorded, their offspring unknown, their lineage diffuse. These women were slaves, and the subject of multiple experimental operations. To merely repeat ‘what happened', what gynecological operations they went through in the rural town of Montgomery, Alabama in the 1840s, without anesthesia, and why, with medical labels and time-lines codified and sanctioned by the medical archive, is already to perform the victim narrative for Anarcha and her fellows in that make-shift hospital. So already at this point, I have to think about the responsibilities of historical work, and of the power of naming. Sims himself is the only source about Anarcha's life. He wrote an autobiography, published in 1880. In it, he writes how he became a fashionable doctor in New York, and about his European tours.

Are you getting caught in a sticky web? What do you want to read, honey?

Continue Essay here

and here

and here

and what we did with it

Or go back

Further back


----- Petra Kuppers