This American Doctor Pioneered Abdominal Surgery by Operating on Enslaved Women

This American Doctor Pioneered Abdominal Surgery by Operating on Enslaved Women

Earlier this year, amid a larger national debate about Confederate monuments, a push to remove a statue memorializing 19th-century gynecologist J. Marion Sims from its location in Central Park made headlines. Sims conducted experimental fistula repair surgeries on enslaved black women, and in the process broke new medical ground, but at a high human and moral cost.  

Sims, however, wasn’t the only doctor who used enslaved women as operative test cases for developing procedures, and he’s not the only one commemorated by a statue in an important place. A bronze model of Kentucky doctor Ephraim McDowell, known as the “father of abdominal surgery,” stands in the United States Capitol Visitor’s Center, a part of the esteemed National Statuary Hall Collection. It goes without saying that no memorial exists to the four enslaved women he operated on as he developed a surgical treatment for ovarian cancer.   

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