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J. Marion Sims

J. Marion Sims, born James Marion Sims (January 25, 1813 – November 13, 1883) was a surgical pioneer and considered the father of American gynecology. [1]  


Early career

Sims was born in Hanging Rock, South Carolina, son of John and Mahala Mackey Sims. Sims' family spent the first twelve years of his life in the Heath Springs area of Lancaster county. He would later write entertainingly of his early school days, but recalled one occasion when he had to be saved from drowning by fourteen-year-old Arthur Ingram, who lived south of Hanging Rock Creek.

His father, John Sims, was elected sheriff of Lancaster County in 1825 and thereafter took up residence in Lancaster, where the boy, Marion, entered Franklin Academy.

After studying medicine with Dr.Churchill Jones in Lancaster, South Carolina, and at the Medical College of Charleston, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1835. He returned to Lancaster to practice, but after the death of his first two patients moved to Alabama.

He returned to Lancaster in 1836 to marry Theresa Jones, the daughter of Dr. Barlett Jones, with whom he had fallen in love with while studying at South Carolina College in Columbia. They would return to Alabama together, where in 1845, Marion Sims established a private hospital for women.

Repair of vesicovaginal fistula

Women with vesicovaginal fistulas that were usually the result of traumatic labor were in those days social outcasts. No cure was available. In Montgomery, Sims used three Alabama slave women, whom he considered to be unhuman, to develop new techniques to repair this condition.[2] From 1845 to 1849 these women were operated upon up to 30 times each, without the use of anaesthesia.[2] After the extensive experiments that the slave women underwent, Sims finally perfected his technique and repaired the fistulas. Only after the success of the early experiments on the slaves that Sims attempted the procedure, with anesthesia, on white women with fistulas.

These heinous experiments set the stage for modern vaginal surgery. Sims devised instruments including the Sims' speculum to gain proper exposure.[1]  A rectal examination position where a patient is on the left side with the right knee flexed against the abdomen and the left knee slightly flexed is also named after him as Sims' position. He insisted on cleanliness. His technique using silver sutures led to successful repair of a fistula and was reported in 1852. Sims' subjects, three women slaves, Anarcha, Betsy, and Lucy underwent over 30 operations each without the use of anesthesia that had recently become available.[2][1] Sims has been criticized for not using anesthesia,[1] and it should be noted that ether was available, and first applied in 1846, and chloroform in 1847.

New York and Europe

Sims moved to New York in 1853 due to health reasons, where he founded the first hospital for women in America. In 1862 he moved to Europe, and worked primarily in London and Paris, and from 1863 to 1866, served as surgeon to the Empress of the French. Honors and medals were heaped upon him for his successful operations in many countries. Under the patronage of Napoleon III, he organized the American-Anglo Ambulance Corps.

In 1871 Sims returned to New York, and after quarreling with the board of the Woman's Hospital over the admission of cancer patients (which he favored), went on to found a new hospital, later to evolve into the Memorial Center for Cancer and Allied Diseases.

He was planning a return visit to Europe when he died of a heart attack on November 13, 1883 in New York, New York. His statue can be found in Central Park and on the grounds of the Alabama State Capitol in Montgomery. Sims was inducted into the Alabama Hall of Fame in 1953.


  • Vaginal surgery: fistula repair
  • Instrumentation: Sims' speculum
  • Surgical positioning: Sims' position
  • Fertility treatment: Insemination
  • Postcoital test


  1. ^ a b c d Brinker, Wendy. James Marion Sims, Father Butcher.
  2. ^ a b c Lerner, Barbara (October 28, 2003). Scholars Argue Over Legacy of Surgeon Who Was Lionized, Then Vilified.
  1. Washington, Harriet A. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present [1]
  2. Speert H. Obstetrics and Gynecologic Milestones. The MacMillan Co., New York, 1958, pages 442-54.
  3. Spencer, Thomas. "UAB shelves divisive portrait of medical titans: Gynecologist's practices at heart of debate." Birmingham News, January 21, 2006.
  4. Gamble, Vanessa. "Under the Shadow of Tuskegee: African Americans and Health Care". American Journal of Public Health, November 1997, page 1773.
  5. Sims, J. Marion. "The Story of My Life". Appleton, New York, 1889, pages 236-237.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "J._Marion_Sims". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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