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Betsey, Lucy, and Anarcha Days of Recognition

Written by: Leah Bush


February 28th marks the last day of Black History Month.

March 1st marks the first day of Women’s History Month.

And bridged over those two days are Betsey, Lucy, and Anarcha Days of Recognition.


Oh, you haven’t heard of them?

Most people haven’t, but if you’ve had a vaginal exam in the last 100 years or certain gynecological procedures, you have them to remember and honor. I would usually say “you have them to thank,” but I don’t think you thank people for being tortured without their consent for your gain. 


There was a physician named J. Marion Sims, who was revered for over 100 years and called “The Father of Gynecology.” He even had a statue in Central Park. Sims made his mark on the gynecological field by experimenting on enslaved, young Black women. The procedures were mostly done for a complication of childbirth called a vesicovaginal fistula (I’m not going to go into details, but understand that the operation that he pioneered is massively invasive and performed intravaginal).


He performed the procedures without anesthesia and the women were restrained to their beds because it was believed that Black people did not feel pain as much as white people. This is an idea that is pervasive throughout our current healthcare system despite it being absolutely untrue.

But Betsey, Lucy, and Anarcha were forgotten until research was done about their lives in 2015. That’s when the atrocities were shared more widely with the public, and Sims became a more vilified figure within the medical community. He has been compared to Josef Mengele, which is a valid comparison. 


Thankfully, his statue in Central Park has come down, and through numerous avenues to educate our society, these women have been recognized. They now have a statue in Montgomery, Alabama, called “The Mothers of Gynecology” by Michelle Browder. It simultaneously honors them while demonstrating the horrors that they went through. The statue was created with discarded metal that was melted down, symbolizing the tragedy of how we as a country have discarded so many Black women. It is a moving piece.


The work is not done yet, though. Black women in the United States are three times as likely to die in the time frame around childbirth than white women. This is a complex issue that has a lot to do with underserved areas, healthcare, poverty, and other systemic factors that need to be addressed. But in the meantime, we should honor the below women and many others who go unnamed: 

• Anarcha Westcott

• Betsey

• Lucy

• Ann McRee

• Lavinia Boudurant 

• Delia

• Julia McDuffie

Remember them.

 

Meet the Author

Leah Bush - ElleTwo Contributor

Nurse Practitioner

Leah Bush is a nurse practitioner with over a decade of clinical experience in critical care, cardiac care, emergency medicine, and primary care settings. Her professional identity is rooted in her upbringing as the daughter of a pastor and cardiac nurse educator, experience in varied medical fields, and personal journey as a mother and kidney transplant patient. She has a passion for patient education and a desire to give every patient the care that they deserve but are often denied. This holds particularly true for her female patients, who are often the most overlooked and misunderstood patients in our healthcare system.



Outside of work, she is a lover of music, documentaries, and LSU football. Her personal heaven is warm buttered bread and a long nap, and her personal hell is matching children’s socks out of an endless sea of laundry. She’s been married to her husband Tony for over a decade, and they have three children together - James, Rebekah, and Henry. They also have a tuxedo cat named Alfie who is apparently starving to death all the time despite being overweight (per the vet . . . not to Leah).





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