Monday, September 29, 2014

Cesarean Sections


On January 29th, 1822, Dr. Ebenezer Basset who was the town physician of Nassau, New York was abruptly interrupted by his medical assistant Jacob Kipp, who notified the doctor of their servant girl who was terribly ill. Braving the cold, Dr. Basset attended to the black servant girl who was lying in the snow with an unusually large cut on her abdomen and right next to her was a razor blade that was covered in blood. Upon further examining the youth of fourteen, Dr. Basset noticed and began to uncover a fetus hidden underneath the snow. Dr. Basset was in complete shock at what he had just witnessed. To his amazement, the youth of fourteen had just conducted a cesarean section on herself. After Dr. Basset recovered from his shock he sent Jacob Kipp to a neighboring town to retrieve Doctors Francis and Beck to help assess the situation.

Upon their arrival to the city of Nassau, Dr. Basset explained to his colleagues what had occurred. The three physicians began to treat the African American servant girl while making detailed notes of the procedure. The physician’s amazement is understandable given that cesarean sections were known about, but not widely used. Even more amazing, the procedure was a self-administered one. How could a black youth of fourteen perform such a complicated procedure on herself?

Historians have always claimed that cesarean sections had been performed by slaves who came from Africa to America. In fact, the first recorded successful cesarean section was performed in Colonial America. There is an account of a doctor in Virginia by the name of Dr. Jesse Bennett who on January 14th, 1794 performed the first cesarean section on his wife with the help and guidance of their slave who was well versed in the procedure of cesarean section. According to author Herbert M. Morais who wrote, The history of the Negro in medicine, African Americans had prior knowledge and used cesarean sections in Africa and brought that knowledge with them to the early colonies of America. Although the procedure was amazing to these white doctors, it would have not been foreign to black females in this era.


But the photogphraph shows another Ebenezer D. Bassett - namely the first African American diplomat and Ambassador to Haiti. Was there any kind of relation between him (who was only born in 1833) and Dr. Ebenezer Bassett, the physician mentioned in this article?

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