Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Sims, James Marion
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Sims, James Marion
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SIMS, James Marion, surgeon, b. in Lancaster county, S. C., 25 Jan., 1813; d. in New York city, 13 Nov., 1883. He was graduated at South Carolina college in 1832, began the study of medicine with a physician of his neighborhood, entered Charleston medical school when it was opened in November, 1833, and completed his course at Jefferson medical college, Philadelphia, in 1835. He began practice in Lancaster, where his parents resided, but became discouraged at the loss of his first patients, and removed to Mount Meigs, Montgomery co., Ala., and, after his marriage in December, 1836, to Macon county. He was successful there, but severe attacks of malarial fever impelled him to change his residence. Near the close of 1840 he settled in Montgomery, where in a short time he gained a good reputation as a surgeon. He was the first practitioner in the south to operate for strabismus or to treat club-foot successfully. In 1845 he published a paper on the cause and the proper mode of treatment of trismus nascentium, in which he attributed the disease to mechanical pressure on the base of the brain, and affirmed that it could be prevented by not placing newborn infants in a constrained posture, and often cured by simply laying them on their side. He explained his hypothesis in the “American Journal of the Medical Sciences” in 1846 and 1848, and subsequently in an “Essay on the Pathology and Treatment of Trismus Nascentium, or Lock-jaw of Infants” (Philadelphia, 1864). His view was not generally accepted by the profession, although a few doctors used his method with success, and the doctrine was confirmed more than thirty years after its announcement by the investigation of a long series of cases in Washington, D. C. In 1845 Dr. Sims conceived a method of treating vesico-vaginal fistula, an affection for which the physicians of various countries had vainly sought it cure. He fitted up a hospital beside his house, into which he collected cases from the neighboring country, maintaining them at his own expense. After experimenting for three years and a half, he finally devised the silver suture, which has since been employed in many branches of surgery, and with which he effected a perfect cure. He invented various instruments during his experiments, chief of which was the duck-bill speculum, commonly called the Sims speculum. This revealed the seat of other serious complaints, and rendered them amenable to surgical treatment. He had before paid no attention to gynecology, but the possession of this instrument, which has raised that branch from the level of empirical experiment to that of certain knowledge, induced him to devote his attention henceforth to the study and treatment of diseases of women. Soon after his first successful operations on fistula of the bladder he was seized with chronic diarrhœa, and, after combating the disease for three years in vain, in order to save his life, he removed in 1853 to New York city. He demonstrated to prominent surgeons the success of the silver suture in vesico-vaginal fistula and lacerated perinæum, and his methods came into use in the hospitals; yet their author met with a cold reception, and his proposition to open a hospital for the treatment of women's diseases was opposed by the other doctors until it was auspiciously presented before the public. The project was welcomed by influential women, and in 1855 a temporary hospital was opened. The necessity for a larger institution was soon recognized. In 1857 the legislature granted a charter for the Woman's hospital of the state of New York, and in the following year appropriated $50,000 for the purpose, while the common council of the city gave as a site the old Potter's field between Fourth and Lexington avenues. In 1861 Dr. Sims went to Europe to study hospital architecture, and, having convinced himself of the advantages of the pavilion system, returned in 1862 and persuaded the governors to adopt that plan. While he was in Europe the chief gynecologists in London, Paris, Dublin, and Edinburgh invited him to perform the operation for vesico-vaginal fistula in the hospitals. His successes in Paris led to his being invited to Brussels to demonstrate the operation before the faculty. He took his family to Europe in July, 1862, intending to return to New York to earn the means of supporting them there, but, through his professional friends and the fame of his operations, obtained a remunerative practice in Paris, and decided to remain abroad until the civil war came to an end. He removed to London about 1864 for the education of his children. His “Clinical Notes on Uterine Surgery,” which was published simultaneously in English, French, and German (London, Paris, and Berlin, 1865), described novel methods of treatment which were not readily adopted by the profession, but which in a few years revolutionized the practice of gynecology. In 1868 he returned to the United States and resumed practice in New York city. While visiting Paris in 1870 he organized an Anglo-American ambulance corps, was made its snrgeon-in-chief, and arrived at Sedan immediately before the battle. After treating 1,600 French and 1,000 German soldiers in the hospital that was assigned to the corps, he resigned at the end of a month. A report of the services of his ambulance corps has been published by Sir William McCormack, who succeeded him as surgeon-in-chief (London, 1871). The first pavilion of the Woman's hospital that he originated in New York city was completed in 1866. In January, 1872, he was reappointed a member of the board of surgeons. His return increased the reputation of the institution, the second pavilion of which was completed in 1876. Many surgeons of the city and from abroad attended to witness his operations. Finally the board of governors, out of a supposed regard for the modesty of the patients, made a regulation restricting the number of visitors to fifteen on any one occasion. Dr. Sims was touched in his professional dignity by this invasion of his proper province, and on 1 Dec., 1874, resigned his post. The American medical association elected him to preside over its meetings at Philadelphia. In 1881 he served as president of the American gynecological society. A part of the last period of his life was spent in Paris, where his family continued to reside. Among his benefactions is the J. Marion Sims asylum for the poor in Lancaster, S. C. He was given the degree of LL. D. by Jefferson university. Pa., in 1881, was made a knight of the Legion of honor in France, a knight of the order of Leopold I., and a corresponding fellow of the Royal academy of medicine in Belgium, and received the iron cross of Germany, two medals from the Italian government, and decorations from the Spanish and Portuguese governments. Dr. Sims began, but did not finish, a work on accidents of parturition and another on sterility. He read papers on these and many other subjects before the medical associations of the United States and England, and described in medical journals new operations and instruments, and advanced theories of pathology and practice that attracted the universal attention of medical men. He published also a short treatise on “Ovariotomy” (New York, 1873). Not long before his death he wrote “The Story of My Life” (New York, 1884). See also a “Memoir,” by Dr. Thomas Addis Emmet (1883). — His son, Harry Marion, surgeon, b. in Montgomery, Ala., 27 Feb., 1851, received his early education in England, France, and Germany, was graduated at Washington and Lee in 1870, and afterward passed through the course of the College of physicians and surgeons, New York city, receiving his degree in 1873. He was a member of the ambulance corps that his father organized during the Franco-Prussian war, being present at Sedan, Orleans, and other battles, and rendered active field service in Paris during the Commune. He established himself in New York city, giving much attention to gynecology, on which subject he has lectured for several years before the New York polyclinic. Besides publishing papers on subjects connected with his specialty, he has prepared an American edition of Dr. Grailly Hewitt's work on “Diseases of Women,” with additions showing the later improvements in gynecology in this country (New York, 1884).