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Dr. James Marion Sims map_it

History

This text is part of Parks’ Historical Signs Project and can be found posted within the park.

This bronze sculpture depicts Dr. James Marion Sims (1813–1883), who has been referred to as the “father of modern gynecology.” Sims has been the subject of much discussion, with some condemning the physician for his medical practices and others defending his record within the context of his time.  Sims’ medical advances were achieved through the use of surgical techniques on enslaved Black women, who were his principal subjects in the South where he initially practiced. 

Sims was born in Lancaster County, South Carolina.  He graduated from South Carolina College in 1832 and completed his medical studies at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1835. He practiced medicine for a short time in Lancaster County and later in Montgomery, Alabama. While living in the South, Sims owned slaves.

From 1845 to 1849 Sims conducted a series of experiments on enslaved Black women that led to medical breakthroughs in treating vesicovaginal fistula, which results from difficult childbirths. Three of the enslaved women were identified by Sims as Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy. Medical scholarship has debated Sims' application of "informed consent" with respect to these enslaved patients. By law, slaves had no personal rights and were the property of their owners who held possession of their lives, their bodies, and their labor. Many have also condemned the ethics of Sims’ scientific methods. He operated on these subjects, in some cases repeatedly, without the use of anesthesia.  At the time, anesthesia was new to the medical profession, and was first publicly demonstrated at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846. 

In 1853 Sims moved to New York and founded the Woman’s Hospital in 1855. In a speech at the New York Academy of Medicine in 1857 he spoke about Anarcha, Betsey and Lucy and stated, "To the indomitable courage of these long-suffering women, more than to any one other single circumstance, is the world indebted for the results of these persevering efforts. Had they faltered, then would woman [sic] have continued to suffer from the dreadful injuries produced by protracted parturition [birth] and then should the broad domain of surgery not have known one of the most useful improvements that shall forever hereafter grace its annals.”

 During the Civil War (1861 to 1865), Sims left the United States for Europe. He returned to establish a thriving New York practice and was elected president of the American Medical Association in 1876.  Sims’ groundbreaking surgical methods and inventions earned him considerable renown. A popular subscription drive to erect this statue in his honor, organized through the Medical Record, solicited contributions from 12,000 medical professionals. His techniques remain in use to this day.

The statue by German artist Ferdinand von Miller II (1842-1929) was cast in Munich, Germany in 1892 and dedicated two years later in Bryant Park. In 1934 the sculpture was reinstalled at its current location opposite the New York Academy of Medicine, at Fifth Avenue and 103rd Street. A new stone pedestal and setting designed by the Parks Department's Chief Consulting Architect Aymar Embury II (1880-1966), was inserted into the rustic Central Park perimeter wall. In 1993 the Central Park Conservancy conserved the monument.

Dr. James Marion Sims Details

  • Location: Fifth Avenue at 103rd Street
  • Sculptor: Ferdinand von Miller II
  • Description: Standing figure with integral plinth on pedestal with supporting piers right and left, each bearing an inscribed roundel on its face
  • Materials: Bronze; North Jay, Maine granite
  • Dimensions: Figure H: 8'9" W: 3' D: 2'11"; Pedestal approximate H: 4½' W: 6'9½"; each pier H: 8' W: 3'9" D: 4'
  • Cast: 1892
  • Dedicated: October 20, 1894.
  • Donor: Subscription organized by "Medical Record"
  • Inscription: (center pedestal)
    J. MARION SIMS / M.D. L.L.D. /

    (left pier)
    SURGEON & / PHILANTHROPIST / FOUNDER OF THE WO- / MAN'S HOSPITAL, STATE OF / NEW YORK. HIS BRILLIANT / ACHIEVEMENT CARRIED / THE FAME OF AMERICAN / SURGERY THROUGH- / OUT THE ENTIRE / WORLD. / BORN 1813 /

    (right pier)
    IN RECOGNITION / OF HIS SERVICES IN / THE CAUSE OF SCIENCE / & MANKIND AWARDED / HIGHEST HONORS BY HIS / COUNTRYMEN & DÉCOR / ATIONS FROM THE GOV / ERNMENTS OF BELGIUM / FRANCE-ITALY-SPAIN / & PORTUGAL / DIED 1883 /

Please note, the NAME field includes a primary designation as well as alternate namings often in common or popular usage. The DEDICATED field refers to the most recent dedication, most often, but not necessarily the original dedication date. If the monument did not have a formal dedication, the year listed reflects the date of installation.

For more information, please contact Art & Antiquities at (212) 360-8143

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The Public Theater’s Free Shakespeare in the Park production of Troilus and Cressida will contain effects including the use of loud sounds, blank gunshots, and simulated explosions. The production will run nightly through August 14 at the Delacorte Theater (located mid-park at 80th Street on the southwest corner of the Great Lawn). Please visit the Public Theater's website for more information about the show and its special effects.
Anticipated Completion: 08/14/2016

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