Julie’s Jar: Whose Story Gets Remembered?

Pages of books are arranged at various angles, taking up the entire frame of the photo.

He is the so-called father of modern gynecology: Dr. J. Marion Sims. It was the mid-1800s when he began conducting experimental surgeries in Montgomery, Alabama. These surgeries were “performed” on 11 enslaved women, none of whom could give consent.

None of them received anesthesia during surgery, no pain relief of any kind. I cannot imagine the horror of someone cutting into me as I’m fully conscious. The terror these women were forced to endure is part of the legacy of our country’s original sin: Slavery. Their sufferings should never be forgotten, in the history telling of this man’s “research” and the accolades his memory still receives. His statue still stands in the state capitol.

The utilitarian argument that “the ends justifies the means,” demeans human life, demeans the lives of these women, whose culture was cancelled the minute their ancestors were loaded on a slave boat in Africa.

The Mothers of Gynecology are finally being remembered in a large-scale sculptural monument by Montgomery-based artist Michell Browder. It will feature three enslaved women that Dr. Sims mentioned in his notes: Anarcha, who endured 30 surgeries, Betsey, and Lucy. The work will sit on a pedestal of red bricks, each inscribed with the names of women who have suffered losses.

This is the kind of monument that needs to be installed across our continent and country, an admittedly small, but nonetheless poignant, tribute to the cultures canceled by conquerors who cared nothing for the land or the people they encountered. Perhaps then, our eyes might be opened to their generational suffering, and the monuments to the perpetrators of slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and more, would fade into the back rooms of museums to be wondered at by visitors: “How did this country of freedom allow this to happen, again and again?”

The Mothers of Gynecology monument will hopefully be installed on Mother’s Day of this year. As we remember Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy, and countless other women who’s names have been lost to enslavement, misogyny, and genocide, let us remember the song of mother Mary, who sang mother Hannah’s song: “My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior….he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.” May it be so.

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