February is Black History Month which is dedicated to acknowledging the contributions the Black community has made to society. We all know the work of notable Black people like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Maya Angelou, and many others. Today I plan to share with you the work of other Black people and how they contributed to individual rights and modern health as we know it.
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) was an outspoken transgender rights activist and a central figure in the historical Stonewall uprising of 1969. The following year in 1970, Johnson and Sylvia Rivera formed the Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries (STAR).
STAR is a radical political organization that offered housing and other forms of support to homeless sex workers and queer workers in Manhattan, New York. From 1972 through the early 1990s, Johnson was an AIDS activist with the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP). Ms. Johnson’s impact on the LGBTQ+ community has inspired many current activists of the movement today.
When it comes to modern healthcare practices, we rarely question where they come from and the process it took to get them. Gynecology practices, or medical practices having to do with the anatomy of a person assigned female at birth, have always been a hot topic. With this being said, I’d like to share two well-known evolutions in health care that came from the help of the Black community.
The history of modern gynecology should be credited to African slaves. James Marion Sims, known as “The Father of Modern Gynecology”, developed tools and surgical techniques for women’s reproductive health and was named president of the American Medical Association in 1876. Sims conducted his research and tests on enslaved African women without anesthesia or medical ethics. Many of his patients did not give him consent to perform these procedures and had many side effects from his faulty work. Sims also has a history of performing gynecological treatments on children which would usually result in death. The work that James Marion Sims did helped to create gynecology practices we still use today but without the presence of African slaves, we would not have the medical treatments we do today.
Another contribution to modern healthcare is the sanitary belt which has now evolved into the sanitary pad. Mary Kenner, a Black woman born in 1912 to a family of inventors, invented the sanitary belt in the 1920s and created a patent for it in 1957. This successful version of the sanitary belt at the time wasn’t picked up for marketing because of Kenner’s race. In the 1970s, beltless sanitary pads were invented and the use of tampons became more popular. Mary Kenner’s invention sparked the inspiration for the evolution of sanitary pads as we know it today.
As you can see, there are many Black historical figures that we owe thanks to for making society what it is today. Celebrate Black History Month by learning more about important Black Historic figures.