Remembering Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy: February 28 to March 1


“Our ability to provide quality women’s health care to all women will depend on our willingness and commitment to change,” said editorial advisory board member Laura Riley, MD.

The Society for Academic Specialists in General Obstetrics and Gynecology (SASGOG) recently joined 22 other professional organizations in designating February 28 and March 1 for the formal acknowledgment of Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy, three enslaved Black women whose exploitation led to foundational advances in the field of obstetrics and gynecology.

Dr. Marion Sims, sometimes called the “Father of Gynecology,” perfected the fistula technique in the mid-1800s, which still benefits many women today.1

The methods and practices he used to perfect it, however, were horrific and barbaric. According to Deirdre Cooper Owens’ book, Medical Bondage, Sims repeatedly operated on Anarcha, Betsey, Lucy, and nine other unnamed enslaved women without anesthesia to perfect his technique. In 4 years, Anarcha survived 30 experimental surgeries.1

“It is critical for all women’s health care providers to acknowledge the history, understand the deep wounds that are left generation after generation and to unlearn the evil and replace it with respect,” said Laura Riley, MD, Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Weill Cornell Medicine, and Obstetrician- and Gynecologist-in-Chief, at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Riley also is an Editorial Advisory Board member with Contemporary OB/GYN®.

Related: Current data on disparities in maternal outcomes

These women also served as Sims’ surgical nurses and learned to heal themselves and each other from the trauma their bodies endured, according to a recent news article from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).

In this video from ACOG, Veronica Maria Pimentel, MD, and Deirdre Cooper Owens, PhD, discuss how the history of obstetrics and gynecology is painfully intertwined with slavery, its effects on current health disparities and why we must learn from the past.

The abhorrent history of medical experimentation on Black people and others of color is often overlooked, and its residual effects still are present in health care today. A recent study found that Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black women have higher postpartum pain scores, but receive fewer opioids while hospitalized after delivery, compared to White women.

“Our ability to provide quality women’s health care to all women will depend on our willingness and commitment to change,” Riley said.

This commemoration bridges Black History Month and Women’s History Month and signifies a formal reflection on the injustices carried out against these women and others throughout history.

Read the complete joint collective action statement online or in a PDF format.


  1. Wall LL. The medical ethics of Dr J Marion Sims: a fresh look at the historical record. J Med Ethics. 2006;32(6):346-350. doi:10.1136/jme.2005.012559
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