Sims, doctor to many wealthy individuals, wanted to be able to fix fistulas but could not get a good look at them. Enter the speculum: Sims put together two spoonlike pieces of metal, and vaginas have never been the same. This invention became the Sims speculum, the direct ancestor to the modern duckbills used in gynecological offices the world over.
Over a period of four years Sims experimented on more than half a dozen women, at least three of which he experimented on multiple times. One woman was operated on 30 times over four years. WITHOUT ANESTHESIA. (Side note: Anesthesia existed at the time, but it was not in common practice.) These women, who Sims either bought or borrowed from their owners, had surgery on the insides of their vaginas without anesthesia over and over again until Sims "perfected" the procedure. Imagine the pain. Imagine the powerlessness. Only after it was "perfect" did Sims conduct the procedure and use the speculum on white women. In case you were wondering, yes, the white women always had anesthesia.
So, the next time you or someone you know goes to the gynecologist for a yearly "well-woman checkup", remember the women whose bodies were mangled in service of scientific progress. Remember the horrors of slavery and remember its effects--including the speculum and repaired fistulas--that surround us, ever-present reminders that the past has not passed.
Kapsalis, Terri. Public Privates: Performing Gynecology From Both Ends of the Speculum. Durham: Duke University Press, 1997. Print.