Black Women : Anarcha's Story/Slave Women & Experimentation

Discussion in 'Black Women - Mothers - Sisters - Daughters' started by cherryblossom, May 16, 2009.

  1. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    Anarcha's Story (by Alexandria C. Lynch)


    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

    Anarcha's Story

    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 Masters 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.

    http://www.nathanielturner.com/anarchas_story.htm
     
  2. truetothecause

    truetothecause Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Thank you for Sharing!

    I have something new to add to the library I am now creating to be available for future generations in my family.

    M.E.
    :hearts2:
     
  3. phynxofkemet

    phynxofkemet Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Thank you

    Sister CB for remembering this womban's story, and giving it life here in our minds and hearts. This is so much a part of our reality, living in a world where our contributions, coerced, stolen, maniuplated or otherwise have laid dormant or too long.

    I am so glad you are a medical student - in my humble estimation, you are the kind of physician that I would want at my bedside. You are compassionate, articulate, and you know who you are and where you come from.

    May the Creator continue to guide your way, remove any obstacles from your path and keep you close so that your legacy will shine brilliant in the years to follow.
     
  4. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    You're welcomed for the info, but I did not write this article. And I am not a medical student. There's no amount of money that would make me go into that field! lol *shudder-shudder*

    No, a woman named Alexandria Lynch wrote this article.

    But, I do thank you for the warm wishes.
     
  5. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    The Anarcha Project

    The Anarcha Symposium DVD is now available! Contact us for a free copy.

    The Anarcha Project is a collaborative performance project that evokes haunting memories of three Alabama slave women who in the 1840s persevered through years of medical experimentation at the hands of J. Marion Sims, “the father of gynecology.”

    We resurrect the memories of Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsy through performance material developed out of two years of archival research as well as live and on-line workshops with hundreds of writers, artists, performers, activists, academics, and students. The workshop participants’ responded to these women’s stories with remembrances both imagined and real.

    With its infusion of dance, spoken-work poetry, theatre, music, and projected images, The Anarcha Project celebrates folkloric healing practices, explores ethical relationships to history, and interrogates the on-going abuse of marginalized people in health care practices today.

    http://www-personal.umich.edu/~petra/anarcha.htm
     
  6. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    You're very welcomed.

    I, too, think every Black woman should have this history.
     
  7. cherryblossom

    cherryblossom Banned MEMBER

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    Now, every time I have an Annual exam, I think of Anarcha and the other slave women who were used for experimentation.
     
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