The College of Physicians of Philadelphia Digital Library

William and John Hunter

This represents the child in the womb, in its natural situation

Late term fetus in utero, from Hunter's Anatomia uteri humanis gravidi tabulis illustrata (1774).

Among the most prominent surgeons and anatomists of the eighteenth century were Scottish brothers William and John Hunter. William Hunter was an obstetrician, and one of the first major professional "man-midwives," taking up duties traditionally performed by female midwives. A former pupil of famed obstetrician William Smellie, Hunter lectured and performed dissections at the Royal Academy of Arts as well as at the anatomical theater he helped to build. Hunter's most famous publication is the Anatomy of a Gravid Uterus, illustrated by Jan van Rymsdyk, which shows images of the later stages of pregnancy, including images of the nearly grown fetus. The images in the atlas are based on the dissections of women who died in the later stages of pregnancy and childbirth; the large engravings capture this violent reality.

William's brother, John Hunter, who also worked on the Anatomy of a Gravid Uterus, was an influential surgeon and collector of anatomical specimens and oddities. His collection of 15,000 wet specimens, skeletons, and moulages became the bulk of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons of England. While these specimens were not considered clinically useful, they were scientifically significant. The collection documented not only the skill of the Hunters as anatomists, but also the results of John Hunter's ability as a surgeon. Hunterian anatomy and approach to medicine became the standard for British and American medical education for many decades.