Anarcha’s Story

Anarcha’s Story


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



Quickly, he forces her to spread her legs so that he can exam her damaged vagina. She is unable to say anything as he pokes and prods in her most private areas. She lies there in that backyard hospital and waits while he completes his initial examination.



Anarcha’s Story

By Alexandria C. Lynch, MS III


“Anarcha’s Story” exposes the Nazi-like experimentation on African-American Christian slaves by Dr. James Marion Sims (1813-1883) of South Carolina, the so-called “Father & Founder of of Modern Gynecology. His purported medical advances are still hailed despite his utter butchery and murder of the oppressed (black) and poor (Irish) women of America. Here is a Measured and passionate account.


A Note to the Editor

As a medical student I am often exposed to a short history of the discovery and or circumstances related to the construction of a tool or drug before or during a scientific lecture. I almost always hear the professor exclaim that Greece was the birthplace of modern medicine and that we should thank this person or that person for contributing to American medicine. Needless to say the countless contributions of many other nations and people are almost always missed.

I have spoken with other medical students for whom this is also a problem. The reading material for most medical schools is standardized and I am sure that each student can see that the medical contributions that make it into most medical textbooks are almost always devoid of contributions from minorities or people who would not be considered white.

Very recently I was particularly affected by this inequality as I listened to a lecture on the female exam. I felt like a large part of the history was overlooked when the lecturer commented that she would not discuss the controversial history of the speculum except to say that Dr. [James Madison] Sims created a very useful tool that allows physicians to examine the walls of the vagina and the uterus.

I was very curious about the history that she was eager to omit. After reading several accounts of his various cruelties and the way they where distorted to make Dr. Sims out to be a hero I was compelled to memorialize the enslaved women in the same way that he is memorialized.

Anarcha was not able to tell her own story it is probable that she was unable to read or write. I am sure that her story would be more horrible than the fictional account that I have written but with the bits and pieces that I have placed together I am sure that what she endure in the name of the advancement of medicine could have read like the following submission.—Alexandria C. Lynch, MS III

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Anarcha’s Story

By Alexandria C. Lynch, MS III


J. Marion Sims (photo right)

A pregnant woman stands in the blazing sun with her arms arched to her back. Tired from an 18-hour workday, picking cotton, looking after Master’s children, or cooking in the big house. These days are particularly hard for her, as it is hard for all women who must work until the moment they are to give birth.Yes, she is worn tired and she can feel the aches grappling her bones. She is also filled with a glorious anticipation, any day now her sweet beautiful baby will be born. As an enslaved woman, life is difficult to say the least but there are still beautiful moments that this woman cannot be denied. Even though enslaved she can bring life into the world as naturally as any other woman.She returns to her cabin, covering herself as best she can with a tattered cloth or blankets. She has a conversation surrounding her thoughts and concerns about the arrival of her child with her fellow captive comrades. All of the women on the plantation are anxiously awaiting the birth of this new hope and the father is also anxious. Both parents have mixed concerns about bringing a child into a life of slavery but there is nothing that can derail what will soon happen.Later on that night she feels the pain of labor contractions. She is hoping to give birth quickly because she knows that the birth of her child will not be an acceptable reason to miss work the following day. She waits a few hours and awakens the other women in the room with a scream. They rush to her aid and prop her up on the bits and pieces of tattered blankets. They make her as comfortable as possible.

The night passes straight away and she is still in labor. The headman must now be informed that she will not be in the field today. She cannot stand and she cannot work. The day passes and still no baby is born. She is tired and in pain. Three days will pass and she still will not see her child.After three days her condition is past serious and the fact that she is unable to perform her duties as an enslaved woman starts to weigh heavy in the Master’s thoughts. In an effort to protect his human investment he summons a physician to aid in the delivery.By this point she is beyond fatigued and lying flaccid on the floor. He enters the room and uses a tool to excavate the baby that was stubbornly lodged in the woman’s vagina. He has had very little experience using his makeshift forceps. Several days after the birth of her child she is unable to control her bodily functions. Her Master finds her condition repugnant and sends her to the same physician to see if there is anything that he can do to repair his damaged property.Scared and ill, she makes her way to the backyard “hospital” that the physician had constructed for the purpose of treating enslaved women with her condition. She notices several enslaved women bound to the beds, and laying on the floor they are emaciated from what looked like a prolonged starvation.

Filled with fear she contemplates heavily what will be her fate. Were these women being made well? Would she have to go through a similar ordeal? Is there any place she can go or anyone that can save her from what seemed like impending doom? She continues forward into what seems like a small death camp.The physician is happy to see her. He is in the process of working on a surgery to repair her condition. He is not interested in her personal condition or in helping to relieve her from her suffering. He is interested in the similarities between her and the women that he hopes to treat one day. He tells her to prop herself up on a table that is covered with a white cloth. 

Quickly, he forces her to spread her legs so that he can exam her damaged vagina. She is unable to say anything as he pokes and prods in her most private areas. She lies there in that backyard hospital and waits while he completes his initial examination. He is pleased to find that this woman has several “vesicovaginal fistulae” that he would love to operate on. He calls over his fellow physicians to exam the woman and they are equally as excited to perform a surgical repair that have not yet been perfected.Later on that day she is prepped for surgery. She is not given any anesthetic and the surgical field is not sterile. They hold her down and incise her vaginal wall. Already in a vulnerable position she is unable to do anything but scream. When the surgical procedure is complete the physician uses a catgut thread to stitch her closed.After the surgery the physician administers an additive dose of opiates to control her bowel movements. She is lying on the floor unable to conceive of what has just occurred. She is to endure weeks of postoperative “care” with minimal food and a physician inflicted constipation. She hopes to return to her child and to her friends. Weeks will pass and she will endure a similar surgery again only this time she is in a deteriorated state. Weakened from the infection that has set into her wounds.

Unable to do anything besides bear the horrible circumstance. She will endure the exposure of her genitalia to strange men, the pain of surgery without antiseptics, or anesthetics, and the horrible post operative “care.” Finally the physician will use silver sutures and report that she has no infection. Out of the several fistulae in her bladder the physician was able to heal one after 30 operations.Her name was Anarcha and she is often forgotten. While the physician Dr Sims is immortalized with countless statues and memorials in his name. His contributions to medicine are often celebrated and he is called the “father of modern gynecology,” while her story has been lost.

By law Anarcha was not permitted to read or write and was unable to document the cruelty that befell her. This was written in the hopes that those who read this will remember her story and equate Dr Sims success with an unimaginable morbidity.

Between 1846 and 1849 he used enslaved women as a part of an ongoing experiment in vaginal surgery. It is doubtful that he would have been able to refine the gynecological tools such as the speculum and techniques that he is accredited to have created without the exploitation of poor and enslaved women.Dr Sims was a part of a society that did not view an entire population of enslaved Africans as worthy of the most basic human rights. Like countless others icons in medical history, the physician is remembered while the people he used are forgotten. These people have made an unimaginable contribution to medicine. Shouldn’t they be remembered as often as Dr Sims?Each time we as future healthcare providers pick up a speculum we should think of Anarcha and the unimaginable sacrifice that she was forced to make for the development of this commonly-used tool. Let us never forget.

If you are interested in more about the J Marion Sims and or other contributions made by the enslaved to the development. Please consult An American Health Dilemma: A Medical History of African Americans and the Problem of Race. By W. Michael Byrd and Linda Clayton.  See also Harriet A. Washington. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present.

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Alexandria C. Lynch was born in Long Island just next to Queens and raised in a one family home in Bayside by her mother, a native of Brooklyn, and her father, a recent immigrant from Barbados. Her sister Tadia was born ten years after her birth. Alexandria attended LaGuardia Performing Arts High School and majored in voice and then completed a BA in Theatre and Dance at Queen’s College (CUNY). She currently is a 4th year medical student at New York Medical College.

She hopes to practice Urology in New York. Her hobbies include horseback riding, running in nice weather, writing, and reading. She has a special interest in Black medical history because it is an area of American history much neglected and continues to be overlooked. From the beginnings of slavery, enslaved Africans were used as guinea pigs for the advancement of modern American medical science. Anarch’s story, she believes represents just one of many stories of those who sacrificed much and gained little.

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Dr. James Marion Sims, known as the American “father of gynecology,” was famed as the inventor of a surgical technique for curing vesicovaginal fistula. He also performed hundreds of clitoridectomies and ovariotomies to cure “sex-related diseases” in women. What is usually not told about his career is the way he developed his techniques. Before the Civil War, he kept women slaves in a disused jailhouse and made them his guinea pigs, performing hundreds of experimental and exploratory operations on them until they died off one by one and were replaced by fresh victims. Sims’s career and writings bear out what some psychologists have suspected, that early gynecological surgeons were fundamentally women-haters with a sadistic bent.

In patriarchal societies, said Marx [Karl Marx 1818 – 1883], “Woman’s true qualities are warped to her disadvantage, and all the moral and delicate elements in her nature become the means for enslaving her and making her suffer.”—Barbara G. Walker, The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets,  pp. 100-101

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The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets

By Barbara G. Walker

This fascinating, scholarly hodgepodge spotlights the feminist underpinnings of myth, religion, and culture. Before being lionized as zaftig Norse angels who guided strong warriors to Valhalla, Valkyries may have offered rebirth through cannibalization. “Little Red Riding Hood” was based on Diana, goddess of the hunt. Marriage was once considered a sin, not a sacred union: St. Bernard once proclaimed “it was easier for a man to bring the dead back to life than to live with a woman without endangering his soul.” A few of the other topics expounded upon are the Milky Way, Cinderella, the moon, and males giving birth. While some of the references put a cranky feminist spin on words that might in context have different meaning—St. Paul’s oft-quoted “better to marry than to burn,” for example—much in this vast tome will dazzle dabblers and intellectuals alike.— Review

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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

By Rebecca Skloot


Faith, Cancer, Death, Racism, Science, and Ethics

A Research Sampling by Rudolph Lewis


Endgame AIDS in Black America

HIV Continues Its Grim Toll on Blacks in the U.S.—‘Endgame: AIDS in Black America’ on PBS—9 July 2012—Today in America, 152 people will become infected with H.I.V.,” a speaker is telling a World AIDS Day gathering as the program opens. “Half of them will be black. Today in America, two-thirds of the new H.I.V. cases among women will be black. Today in America, 70 percent of the new H.I.V. cases among youth will be black.”

From there the program, directed by Renata Simone, embarks on a history lesson, tracing how AIDS was almost immediately typecast as a disease of gay white men, even though some of the earliest cases were in black men. That led to an indifference among blacks at the start of the epidemic, and soon along came the drug nightmare of the 1990s, with sex being traded for a fix, rampant needle sharing and resistance to needle-exchange programs that sought to do something about the problem. Endemic poverty in black America of course exacerbated everything about the AIDS crisis.

Black leaders acknowledge that they failed to take the kind of vocal role in the early years that they had been known for in civil rights battles and other struggles. “I didn’t do what I could have done and should have done,” Julian Bond, the civil rights activist and a former chairman of the N.A.A.C.P., says bluntly.—nytimes

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Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation

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Medical Apartheid is the first and only comprehensive history of medical experimentation on African Americans. Starting with the earliest encounters between black Americans and Western medical researchers and the racist pseudoscience that resulted, it details the ways both slaves and freedmen were used in hospitals for experiments conducted without their knowledge—a tradition that continues today within some black populations. It reveals how blacks have historically been prey to grave-robbing as well as unauthorized autopsies and dissections. . . . The product of years of prodigious research into medical journals and experimental reports long undisturbed, Medical Apartheid reveals the hidden underbelly of scientific research and makes possible, for the first time, an understanding of the roots of the African American health deficit.—Random House / Kam Williams review

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Time senior correspondent Michael Grunwald tells the secret history of the stimulus bill, the purest distillation of Change We Can Believe In, a microcosm of Obama’s policy successes and political failures. Though it is reviled by the right and rejected by the left, it really is a new New Deal, larger than FDR’s and just as transformative. It prevented an imminent depression, while jump-starting Obama’s long-term agenda. The stimulus is pouring $90 billion into clean energy, reinventing the way America is powered and fueled; it includes unprecedented investments in renewables, efficiency, electric cars, a smarter grid, cleaner coal, and more. It’s carrying health care into the digital era. Its Race to the Top initiative may be the boldest education reform in U.S. history. It produced the biggest middle-class tax cuts in a generation, a broadband initiative reminiscent of rural electrification, and an overhaul of the New Deal’s unemployment insurance system. It’s revamping the way government addresses homelessness, fixes infrastructure, and spends money.

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How could the best and brightest (and most highly paid) in finance crash the global economy and then get us to bail them out as well? What caused this mess in the first place? Housing? Greed? Dumb politicians? What can Main Street do about it? In The Looting of America, Leopold debunks the prevailing media myths that blame low-income home buyers who got in over their heads, people who ran up too much credit-card debt, and government interference with free markets. Instead, readers will discover how Wall Street undermined itself and the rest of the economy by playing and losing at a highly lucrative and dangerous game of fantasy finance. He also asks some tough questions:  Why did Americans let the gap between workers’ wages and executive compensation grow so large? Why did we fail to realize that the excess money in those executives’ pockets was fueling casino-style investment schemes? Why did we buy the notion that too-good-to-be-true financial products that no one could even understand would somehow form the backbone of America’s new, postindustrial economy?

How do we make sure we never give our wages away to gamblers again? And what can we do to get our money back? In this page-turning narrative (no background in finance required) Leopold tells the story of how we fell victim to Wall Street’s exotic financial products. Readers learn how even school districts were taken in by “innovative” products like collateralized debt obligations, better known as CDOs, and how they sucked trillions of dollars from the global economy when they failed. They’ll also learn what average Americans can do to ensure that fantasy finance never rules our economy again. The Economy

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The White Masters of the World

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

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update 1 June 2012




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