On Monday, September 23, 2019 Central Park Conservancy staff installed an interim signage for the encased pedestal that once held the statue of J. Marion Sims on Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street.
WHAT’S HAPPENING HERE?
From 1934 to 2018 this was the site of a statue of Dr. James Marion Sims. Acknowledging a decade of protest by social justice and health care advocates, community boards, elected officials, and community residents, the sculpture was removed in 2018. It is being replaced by a new permanent, public artwork.
WHO WERE DR. J. MARION SIMS, ANARCHA, BETSEY, AND LUCY?
Dr. J. Marion Sims (1813–1883) was known as the “father of modern gynecology.” He developed the treatment for vesicovaginal fistula, a painful condition which results from difficult childbirths.
However, Sims’ discoveries are inseparable from the legacy of American slavery. Sims developed his fistula treatment by experimenting on enslaved Black women, three of whom he identified as Anarcha, Betsey, and Lucy. Enslaved people were denied rights and were effectively unable to freely decide whether to participate in the experiments. Several patients underwent multiple surgeries, without the use of the then-new science of anesthesia, suffering horrific pain.
Sims won fame through his discoveries and was elected president of the American Medical Association in 1876. An effort to create a statue in his honor earned contributions from nearly 1,000 medical professionals. The monument was dedicated in Bryant Park in 1892 and moved to Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street across from the Academy of Medicine in 1934.
WHY WAS THE STATUE REMOVED?
In 1970s, scholars began to question the ethics of Sims’ methods and his exploitation of enslaved people. Over the past decade, East Harlem Preservation galvanized community action in a sustained effort to remove the statue. In 2018, noting broad popular opposition to the monument and its celebration of an individual who gained fame at the cost of great human suffering, the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments and Markers called for the monument to be dismantled. Mayor de Blasio ordered its removal in April 2018.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NOW?
Following the removal of the statue in spring 2018, the City of New York and the Committee to Empower Voices for Healing and Equity—a community coalition established following Sims’ removal to represent local stakeholders’ voices—convened community discussions regarding the future of this site. The NYC Department of Cultural Affairs has allocated up to $1 million to commission a new artwork that addresses this monument’s history, helps move beyond Sims’ legacy, and affirms the rights of women and people of color. This piece will be installed by 2021.