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Hendrick van Deventer was born in The Netherlands in 1651. He was trained as a goldsmith but left home at the age of 17 to join the puritan community of Jean de Labadie. When he was 21, the sect migrated to Holstein in Germany, and it was there that van Deventer became medical assistant to the parish physician, Dr Walter. Five years later the community, which had grown to some 500 members, returned to the Friesian village of Wiewerd with van Deventer as their physician, surgeon, and man-midwife. The Labadists lived under a strict discipline and ate an ascetic diet, and infantile rickets was common. As a result van Deventer became an expert in the bony deformations of the disease, and on two occasions, in 1689 and 1691, was invited to treat the children of King Christian V of Denmark and Norway for rickets.
In 1694, at the age of 43, van Deventer was granted the degree of Doctor of Medicine cum laude et cum applausu by the University of Groningen. This allowed him to practice medicine outside the parish and he settled in The Hague. Seven years later, in 1701, he published his great work New Light for Man-Midwives and Midwives.1 In this beautifully illustrated book van Deventer dealt systematically with the anatomy of the female genital tract and with normal and abnormal labour. In particular, he emphasised the need to have a thorough knowledge of the pelvis, and he was the first to introduce its morphological classification. He was perhaps the first obstetrician to appreciate the dangers of disproportion due to the rickety flat pelvis (fig 1).
Van Deventer succeeded to the mantle of Mauriceau. Unlike many …