J. Marion Sims Statue, Central Park, New York City

Statue of J. Marion Sims
J. Marion Sims
Monument Removed

Dublin Core


J. Marion Sims Statue, Central Park, New York City


 James Marion Sims is most famous for his role as an innovative surgeon in the nineteenth century. Often referred to as the “father of gynecology,” Sims’ career as a surgeon gained notoriety after the successful treatment of vesicovaginal fistula through an operation.[1] This breakthrough in medicine helped lead to his election as president of the American Medical Association in 1876.[2] While he was an innovative doctor, the way he discovered his breakthrough treatment for vesicovaginal fistula has raised questions about his ethics as a surgeon. These concerns arose due to Sims’ use of enslaved women in surgical experiments.
    Sims did his first experimental vesicovaginal fistula surgery in 1845 on an enslaved woman named Lucy.[3] From 1845 to 1849, Sims continued these experimental surgeries on other enslaved women in a hospital in his backyard.[4] In order to practice these surgeries, Sims made arrangements with the slaveowners to lease the slaves for his experimentation. The enslaved women, unable to consent to Sims’ experimental methods, were subject to painful surgeries without anesthesia. Though use of anesthesia was still in its infancy, Sims did not use anesthesia because he believed that African American women had a higher pain tolerance than white women due to “biological” differences, on whom he would later go on to use anesthesia.[5] Ideas such as this would impact the U.S. healthcare system negatively for African Americans in the future. During the Civil War, Sims, a firm believer in slavery, went to Europe to practice medicine, though his time there may have also been spent acting as an agent for the Confederacy.[6] A statue dedicated to Sims was constructed in 1892 by German artist Ferdinand von Miller II and placed in a park that is now known as Bryant Park. In 1934, the statue was moved to Central Park where it stood throughout the rest of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.[7] 
Sims’ use of enslaved women in his experiments brought his legacy into question after the death of counter protester Heather Heyer at the Charlottesville Unite the Right white supremacist rally in 2017. Along with other controversial statues across the nation, Sims’ statue in Central Park was removed as the result of a unanimous vote by New York City’s Public Design Commission on April 16, 2018.[8] The statue was then taken down on April 17, 2018, and relocated to Sims’ burial place in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York. The statue’s removal was set to be replaced by a piece known as Victory over Sims, though the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed artist Vinnie Bagwell’s progress on the project.[9]


Ferdinand Freiherr von Miller II


[1] Strauss, “Contested Site or Reclaimed Space? Re-Membering but Not Honoring the Past on the Empty Pedestal,” History and Memory 32, no. 1 (2020): 133, https://doi.org/10.2979/histmemo.32.1.07.

[2] “Dr. James Marion Sims Scultpture,” New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, April 16, 2018, https://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/historical-signs/listings?id=13315.

[3] Meagan Flynn, “Statue of ‘father of Gynecology,’ Who Experimented on Enslaved Women, Removed from Central Park,” n.d., 2.

[4] Flynn.

[5] Keith Wailoo, “Historical Aspects of Race and Medicine: The Case of J. Marion Sims,” JAMA 320, no. 15 (October 16, 2018): 1529, https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.11944.

[6] Strauss, “Contested Site or Reclaimed Space?,” 133.

[7] “Dr. James Marion Sims Scultpture.”

[8] Flynn, “Statue of ‘father of Gynecology,’ Who Experimented on Enslaved Women, Removed from Central Park.”

[9] Katie Honan, “Coronavirus Delays Replacement of Controversial Statue Removed From Central Park; J. Marion Sims Statue Was Picked to Be Replaced after the Mayor’s 2017 Initiative to Re-Examine New York City Monuments,” Wall Street Journal (Online), October 20, 2020, 2452176471, ABI/INFORM Collection; Global Newsstream, https://www.proquest.com/newspapers/coronavirus-delays-replacement-controversial/docview/2452176471/se-2?accountid=9840.




Aramis Sandoval, Mireya Blush




Bronze Sculpture


HIST 402A Fall 2021


New York City, New York