Michelle Hartney


Anarcha; Grosgrain ribbon, metallic embroidery floss; velvet and vintage obstetrics textbook; 18×40 inches


Betsey; Grosgrain ribbon, metallic embroidery floss, velvet and vintage obstetrics textbook, 18×40 inches


Obstetrics in America: The Cost of Progress (Part One: Our Past)

Dr. J. Marion Sims, the “father of modern gynecology,” bought and rented slaves and performed experiments on their vaginas, in an attempt to find a cure for the vesico-vaginal fistula. Sims experimented on at least ten female slaves, choosing not to provide anesthesia, even though it had recently become available. In Sims’ autobiography, he revealed the names of three of the women he experimented on: Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsey. Anarcha was seventeen years old when she gave birth to her first child and developed a fistula. Sims operated on her 30 different times without anesthesia.

An accompanying performance element to this work includes my visiting medical libraries and checking out old obstetrics textbooks. I return every book that fails to mention Anarcha, Lucy or Betsey, with a typed footnote inserted in the pages of the book, which explains the truth about Sim’s work.