Towards the end of his life, the physician, surgeon, gynaecologist and one-time resident of New York City’s Madison Avenue, James Marion Sims took stock of his social and professional standing. He calculated himself to be the second wealthiest of all American doctors, having achieved all the greatest honours of the profession and an international reputation. He was made president of the American Medical Association in 1875, the American Gynecological Society in 1880 and received medals, decorations and awards from the governments of France, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Portugal and Germany. For most of the twentieth-century, Sims enjoyed a posthumous reputation as the ‘Father of Gynecology’. Physician-authored medical histories and monuments celebrated Sims as a mercurial medical innovator and a great benefactor, said to have brought relief to generations of countless women across the world who had suffered accidents of childbirth. With the rise of women’s history, the social history of medicine, and African American history in the early 1970s, Sims’s career received a thorough reappraisal from the perspective of his enslaved, pauper, and female patients. With a focus on the histories of the various markers, memorials, statues, paintings, and other relics that bore his name and embodied Sims’s story, this paper traces the descending arc of his reputation, and how the once proud monuments bearing his effigy in the capitals of the Confederacy and the metropolis of New York, became lightning rods for social justice protests, and notorious symbols of a much longer and damaging history of medical racism, paternalism and sexism. The paper emerges from a larger collaborative book project, Racism, sexism, and power: histories, myths, and legacies of James Marion Sims.
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