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The forgotten women of gynaecology

02 October 2019
5 min read
Volume 27 · Issue 10


The inhumane use of female slaves in the development of gynaecological techniques has not been fully acknowledged. It is time to formally recognise these formidable women, says Heidi Downes

The atrocities of slavery in the USA in the 1800s have been well documented, but the development of gynaecological techniques using female slaves has not had the same acknowledgement. Within midwifery and medicine in the UK, this chapter of history has received little attention, and the black, slave women who were used in the inhumane gynaecological experiments (without consent or pain relief) have been forgotten.

Highlighting this truth makes for difficult reading, but the story of these women who suffered is a story that needs to be heard. The history of gynaecology, and some of the stark realities of its origins and those who played a part, should equally be recognised and honoured. Midwives and doctors in the UK who have benefited from these women's sacrifices need to acknowledge this hidden truth, and be the voice that these women never had so their sacrifices can be honoured.

‘The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.’

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