Submitted by Dot Willsey
A collective of professional organizations in health care have officially designated Feb. 28 and March 1, the dates that bridge Black History and Women’s History months, for the formal acknowledgement of Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy, three enslaved Black women whose exploitation led to foundational advances in the field of obstetrics and gynecology that benefit millions of patients today.
Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy and other unnamed enslaved women, were involuntarily experimented upon by Dr. James Marion Sims in the development of surgical techniques in the mid-1800s. Their documented experiences have helped raise awareness about racism in medicine and the abuses endured by people of color that have often been overlooked in medical history.
This year’s commemoration marks the inaugural formal reflection on the injustices—deeply rooted in racism and oppression—carried out against these women and others throughout history. These leading organizations comprised of medical care professionals, have made an actionable commitment to accountability and doing the purposeful work of dismantling systemic and institutional racism that is pervasive in U.S. healthcare institutions and led to continued disparate and negative health outcomes for Black, indigenous, people of color and other marginalized persons.
This effort starts with seven actions outlined in the joint statement Collective Action Addressing Racism. One of the primary objectives of this collective action is to assist the medical organizations’ members in reflecting, learning and acting on ways they can individually work to change the culture of medicine.
This inaugural year, Dr. Veronica Pimentel, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist whose activism was the impetus for the commemoration days, hosted a live event with award-winning historian Deirdre Cooper Owens, Ph.D., discussing the history and accounts of Anarcha, Betsy and Lucy. Pimentel and Owens discuss how the history of obstetrics and gynecology is painfully intertwined with slavery, how it affects our current health disparities and why it’s important to learn from our past. This discussion recognizes enslaved Black women who were experimented on without their consent in the name of advancing science. Recognizing Lucy, Betsey and Anarcha: A Live Conversation with Veronica Maria Pimentel, MD, FACOG, and Deirdre Cooper Owens, PhD | ACOG.