In Person: J.C. Hallman at Milkweed Books, for Say Anarcha

Milkweed Books
1011 Washington Ave S
Suite 107
Minneapolis, MN 55415
United States


(612) 215-2540

Join us for an incredible event as McKnight fellow J.C. Hallman presents his latest book of nonfiction, Say Anarcha, at Milkweed Books. Hallman will read from Say Anarcha—his book unearthing the story of the enslaved woman known as “The Mother of Gynecology” and the dangerous, experimental surgeries conducted on her—and discuss the book with Dr. Rahel Nardos of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Global Health and Social Responsibility and Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women’s Health.

We invite you to join us at this special reading at Milkweed Books, our brick-and-mortar independent bookstore located on the first floor of Open Book, at 7 p.m. for an unforgettable event.


About the book

For more than a century, Dr. J. Marion Sims was hailed as the “father of modern gynecology.” Sims’s greatest medical claim was the result of several years of experimental surgeries—without anesthesia—on a young enslaved woman known as Anarcha; his so-called cure for obstetric fistula forever altered the path of women’s health.

One medical text after another hailed Anarcha as the embodiment of the pivotal role that Sims played in the history of surgery. Decades later, a groundswell of women objecting to Sims’s legacy celebrated Anarcha as the “mother of gynecology.” Little was known about the woman herself. The written record would have us believe Anarcha disappeared; she did not.

Through tenacious research, J. C. Hallman has unearthed the first evidence of Anarcha’s life that did not come from Sims’s suspect reports. Hallman reveals that after helping to spark a patient-centered model of care that continues to improve women’s lives today, Anarcha lived on as a midwife, nurse, and “doctor woman.”

Say Anarcha excavates history, deconstructing the biographical smoke screen of a surgeon who has falsely been enshrined as a medical pioneer and bringing forth a heroic Black woman to her rightful place at the center of the creation story of modern women’s health care.


About the speakers

J. C. Hallman is the author of five previous works of nonfiction and a book of short stories. His previous work on Anarcha has appeared in Harper’s Magazine, The Forum (of The African American Policy Forum), The Baffler, Montgomery Advertiser, and Urology. He had been a recipient of fellowships from the McKnight Foundation and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, in the general nonfiction category.

Rahel Nardos, MD, MS was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She received a scholarship to attend Franklin and Marshall college where she earned her BS in Biopsychology. A Yale School of Medicine graduate, she completed her residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis. Following her residency, Dr. Nardos spent one year as staff surgeon at the Addis Ababa Hamlin Fistula Hospital and its multiple satellite medical centers in Ethiopia where served women with childbirth injuries. She then returned to the United States and completed her fellowship training in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, as well as her master’s degree in clinical research at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). The meaningful difference she aspires to make is to leverage her unique worldview and life experience as an immigrant to serve as a human bridge, and to harness the collective wisdom and passion of our community so that quality and affordable healthcare is accessible to every woman, irrespective of the lottery of her birthplace.