I found Deirdre Cooper Owens’ lecture very interesting. It was titled, “Defining Blackness: Examining Slavery, Race, and Immigration in the Antebellum Era.” A lot of her work focused on Dr. James Marion Sims. Dr. Sims was a gynecologist in the 1800s. In the 1840s, he primarily experimented on slave women. He acquired about a half dozen female slaves to experiment on in hopes of “fixing” them to make them worth more in the future.
What interested me the most about Dr. Sims’ experiments, was his work with a white woman. Mary Smith was a young white immigrant from Ireland whom Dr. Sims performed many experiments on throughout the course of six years. In 1851, Dr. Sims published an article on his work with slaves and blacks. However, the majority of this article was about Mary Smith. Dr. Sims treated slaves and poor white immigrants the same and wrote about them solely as black in his works. This caught my attention because Dr. Sims seems to be making the claim that blacks and whites have the same “interworking” and are the same on the inside. This goes against what 19th century doctors believed.
Most 19th century doctors believed that black women were “over-sexed.” Black slaves were being forced to produce more and more slaves for their owners to raise and sell. To justify the over-sexing of female slaves, doctors came up with the idea that black women had less pain with labor and pregnancy because, due to natural selection, they had tougher bodies than white women. Therefore, they were meant to be slaves and breed slaves. They also believed that because a black woman’s body was tougher, it was acceptable for them to go right back to work after giving birth. The truth is, slaves couldn’t talk to a doctor about what was wrong with them or how much pain they were having during pregnancy. White doctors of the time just assumed they were capable of being used for breeding purposes.
I just can’t seem to get over the fact that Dr. Sims agreed with other doctors of his time that blacks had tougher and different bodies than whites, yet still counted white immigrants and black slaves as the same for his research. Dr. Sims is separating “different” bodies by social class instead of by the color of their skin. I am not saying that either is right, but how could blacks and whites be thought of as different both internally and externally if they were counted as the same for research purposes?