James Marion Sims Biography (1813-1883)


James Marion Sims, was born on January 25, 1813 in Lancaster, SC; he died onNovember 13, 1883 in New York, NY. Sims was the son of John and Mahala Sims,and the husband of Eliza Theresa Jones (parents of five surviving children).An American physician and surgeon, Sims was the first to establish gynecologyas a separate branch of medicine, and as one of the first areas of surgicalspecialization. He is now recognized as the leading gynecologist of his time.Sims graduated from South Carolina College in 1832; a year later (1833), heentered Charleston Medical College. In 1834, he enrolled in Jefferson MedicalSchool in Philadelphia, obtaining the M.D. degree from that school in 1835.He began practice in Lancaster, South Carolina, where his first two patientsdied. He subsequently lived in Mount Meigs, Alabama; Montgomery, Alabama (1840); New York City (where he practiced surgery; 1853); Europe (1861); New York(1868); France (1870-1872); and New York (1872). Sims was a member of the Board of Surgeons at Women's Hospital; president of the American Medical Association (1876), and president of the American Gynecological Society (1880). Heestablished Women's Hospital in New York (1854) for the instruction of students and physicians in gynecological surgery. Sims is remembered as a kind-hearted but impulsive man, but more than that as one of the most gifted of American surgeons. A statue was erected to his memory in Bryant Park in New York City by his European and American admirers in 1894.

After settling in Alabama, Sims gained a reputation as a capable and inventive surgeon. He operated successfully for abscess of the liver in 1835, and successfully removed an upper and lower jaw in 1837. In 1845, he was called to examine a country woman who had sustained a displacement of the uterus as theresult of a fall from a horse. Some accounts say that he hit upon the peculiar lateral examination position that now bears his name (Sim's position, still adopted in some gynecological procedures) while making a digital examination, others state that this discovery resulted from four years of experimentation on black slave women in Alabama. In any case, Sims did develop the first successful treatment of a vesticovaginal fistula (an abnormal opening between the vagina and the bladder), which most often occurs as the result of amishap during childbirth. The success of Sim's procedure was largely due tohis use of a special curved speculum and his positioning the patient semi-prone on her left side with her right knee drawn up to her chest. (It is important to note that, before Sims had developed his technique, many surgeons had attempted to treat this condition with no better results than to cause additional suffering and inconvenience to their patients). Sims published his results in 1852, creating a profound impression in the medical world. While visiting Europe in 1861, Sims performed his fistula operation before surgical leaders there. He was soon in request all over Europe as a specialist in the diseases of women.

Sims is also remembered as the inventor of two surgical instruments of his own design, Sim's catheter (to empty the bladder while the fistula was healing)and the afore-mentioned speculum (also known as a double-duck-billed vaginalspeculum). He also experimented with silver sutures to avoid sepsis. Among his other contributions were his methods of amputating the cervix uteri (1861); his description of vaginismus (1861); his operation of cholecystotomy (1878); and his development of a careful method of aseptically invading the peritoneal cavity for the arrest of hemorrhage (1881).

Among Sim's writings are "The Treatment of Epiethelioma of the Cevix Uterine," Am. J. Obst. (1879); "Remarks on the Treatment of Gunshot Wounds ofthe Abdomen in Relation to Modern Peritonal Surgery," British Med. J.(1881); "The Surgical Treatment of President Garfield," North Am. Rev.(1881).

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