J. Marion Sims and the Civil War — a rollicking tale of deceit and spycraft

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Belle Montgomery

2nd Lieutenant
Joined
Oct 25, 2017
Location
44022
In 2016, a New York City Parks Department representative tried to tamp down my enthusiasm for questioning the legacy of controversial Montgomery gynecologist J. Marion Sims.

“It’s not like he was a Confederate general,” the representative said.

I was researching a Harper’s Magazine cover piece about the statue of Sims that had stood in New York since 1894. Sims was from South Carolina but lived in Montgomery when he conducted a series of now-infamous surgical experiments on enslaved women without the use of anesthesia. After publishing his results, he abandoned Alabama to pursue health and fame in New York, and from there became a globetrotting cosmopolite.

By the time my article appeared, Sims had become international news. In the wake of last year’s deadly monument protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, activists staged a demonstration at the site of the New York statue featuring a soon-to-go-viral photograph of four women in blood-soaked medical gowns.
A week later, I came to Alabama. Very few people, I found, were aware that another statue of J. Marion Sims had stood on the Alabama Capitol grounds since 1939.

That didn’t last long. The Alabama Legislature and Gov. Kay Ivey, in reaction to the nationwide debate over Confederate monuments, had passed a law protecting any statue more than 40 years old. Nevertheless, voices opposed to the Sims statue in Montgomery rose up. The monument was splashed with fake blood — a trial is imminent — and an alternative statue of Sims’s “first cure,” the young woman known as Anarcha, was erected in protest only to be stolen in the night.

My work had revealed that other aspects of Sims’ career were just as troubling as the Alabama experiments. For example, Sims was thrown out of his own hospital in New York in 1874, in part because his fellow doctors had determined that his work was reckless and lethal. Indeed, so much of Sims’s legacy has now been discredited that his defenders have been reduced to peculiar claims — such as, “It’s not like he was not a Confederate general.”
Apologists argue that Sims was a Southern sympathizer who loved New York, and that he departed for Europe in 1861 to skirt conflicting loyalties at the start of the Civil War. But that’s not quite right.

The real story of J. Marion Sims and the Confederacy is a rollicking tale of deceit and spycraft.

The story begins with a letter. On May 30, 1861...

REST OF ARTICLE:https://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/opinion/2018/09/28/dr-j-marion-sims-and-civil-war-rollicking-tale-deceit-and-spycraft-slaves-experiments/1443452002/
 
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