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Statue of Gynecologist Who Experimented on Enslaved Women Removed from Central Park

The monument to J. Marion Sims will eventually be installed, along with a display adding historical context, near his grave in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

The statue of J. Marion Sims has been removed from Central Park (illustration by the author for Hyperallergic)
The statue of J. Marion Sims has been removed from Central Park (illustration by the author for Hyperallergic)

This morning, one of New York City’s most hated statues was removed from its pedestal and taken away. The monument to J. Marion Sims — a 19th-century gynecologist performed experimental surgeries on enslaved women, without their consent or the use of anesthesia — was lifted from its pedestal at 103rd Street and Fifth Avenue shortly after 8am today, according to ABC7.

The statue of J. Marion Sims in Central Park that is being moved to Green-Wood Cemetery (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
The statue of J. Marion Sims in Central Park that is being moved to Green-Wood Cemetery (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The Sims statue, which stood at the edge of Central Park in East Harlem for decades, was the only public monument earmarked for removal in a report released by the Mayoral Advisory Commission on City Art, Monuments, and Markers in January. The decision followed months of debate and public fora. The city’s Public Design Commission voted to remove it last night, clearing the final bureaucratic hurdle for today’s extraction. The statue will be relocated to a site near Sims’s grave in Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.

“The statue will immediately be placed in storage until Green-Wood can construct the historical display that will put Sims’ life and work into context,” a Green-Wood spokesperson told Hyperallergic. “Ultimately, the sculpture will be placed near Sims’ gravesite.”

Many feel that simply relocating the Sims statue is too generous, and call for its permanent removal from public display. “Green-Wood Cemetery has said they’re willing to take it. Fine. Complete the job and bury it,” City Councilwoman Inez Barron (D-Brooklyn) told the New York Daily News.

In a statment sent to Hyperallergic, Green-Wood President Richard J. Moylan addressed the concerns of Barron and others:

When the Green-Wood Cemetery agreed to accept the statue of J. Marion Sims under a long-term loan agreement with the City of New York, we did so with the intent to make sure that his whole story be told. Today, if you visit his grave at Green-Wood, the obelisk marking his burial place is inscribed with these simple words: Founder of the N.Y. State Woman’s Hospital. An uninformed visitor would not know his whole history.

Placing the sculpture near his gravesite is not meant to glorify him. Rather, it is a visual focal point that will bring attention to a factual display that Green-Wood will build to document Sims’ story including his shameful experimentation on enslaved women in the South between 1845 and 1849. Additional information will be available on Green-Wood’s website.

As a National Historic Landmark, the responsibility to preserve this history, and not to whitewash it, is something Green-Wood takes very seriously.

In the meantime, the city’s Parks Department plans to create informational plaques and commission new art for the empty stone pedestal where the Sims statue stood on Fifth Avenue. A Parks Department spokesperson said: “There’s no specific timeline yet but now that the statue has been relocated, the conversation can begin about what kind of work might be commissioned for this site.”

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