The Unknown Mothers of Gynecology

As we come to the end of February, a month designated to recognize and honor the contributions of Black people in America, we invite you to watch the eye-opening short video entitled “The Mothers of Gynecology”. The video discusses and depicts sculptures created by artist Michelle Browder, of three enslaved women, Anarcha, Lucy and Betsey, whose bodies were used to further the knowledge and science of modern gynecology.

The story of these women is painful and powerful as their treatment was horrific yet their contributions undeniable. And in the hands of Michelle Browder, their dignity is uplifted and preserved; the beauty of their lives and sacrifices given voice. Through them, I find pride, and hope, and a commitment to ensure that their legacy serves to continue the fight for reproductive equity for Black women.


Iris Payne, MPH

Program Director

San Diego County Black Infant Health Program


The video about these strong enslaved women also moved our staff members and here is what a few of them had to share after watching.


Reflection #1

“2 things I thought of after the video — While the Mothers of Gynecology was sad for me what our sisters endured at that time and were helpless and did not have a voice, we have one now and we can use it to the utmost to help save our and our family’s lives.

Mothers of Gynecology verified to me the resilience of our black women and how evil can be done to us but it can’t defeat us….we are the dictionary definition of resilience!”


Reflection #2

“I am awed by the way that the Artist Michelle Browder was able to articulate the horrific pain and torture these Black women endured in such an artistic, beautiful, stylistic way. Michelle (and Deborah Shedrick)’s use of recyclable items help me to better understand what these women endured (e.g., scissors, specula, and chains in the womb).”

“Despite the anger I feel learning about the atrocities that Dr. James Marion Sims inflicted on Black women, I am honored to know that through the pain and torture these Black women endured, they are now getting the recognition that they deserve and that the world is finally recognizing that their Lives Matter and that we should know their names…Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy.”


Reflection #3

“This video had me in awe. The statues depicting these women, known as the Mothers of Gynecology, are breathtaking and when you learn about their stories it brings about a mix of emotions including gratitude, humility, empathy, and admiration. It is a reminder of how vulnerable Black women have been within the many racist institutions of America and the suffering we have endured as a result. Yet, in the essence of our foremothers we continue to embody beauty, grace, and an ancestral wisdom.


Reflection #4

 “I felt so much emotion from the beginning until the end of this video. Aside from the horrific and damaging past events that took place with these women (Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy), what stuck with me the most is what was said toward the ending of the video about monuments needing change in order to give a different narrative to history. There have been so many untold truths and it is reflected in the painful but beautiful art of the sculptures displayed in the video. Unfortunately, since we do not have the ability to change the past, we can make an impact by correcting how things are depicted in our present and future.”