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A Moment in History

Self-portrait, Henry Vandyke Carter, MD (Public Domain)
Self-portrait, Henry Vandyke Carter, MD (Public Domain)

Henry Vandyke Carter, MD
(1831 – 1897)

English physician, surgeon, medical artist, and a pioneer in leprosy and mycetoma studies.  HV Carter was born in Yorkshire in 1831. He was the son of Henry Barlow Carter, a well-known artist and it is possible that he honed his natural talents with his father. His mother picked his middle name after a famous painter, Anthony Van Dyck. This is probably why his name is sometimes shown as Henry Van Dyke Carter, although the most common presentation of his middle name is Vandyke.

Having problems to finance his medical studies, HV Carter trained as an apothecary and later as an anatomical demonstrator at St. George’s Hospital in London, where he met Henry Gray (1872-1861), who was at the time the anatomical lecturer. Having seen the quality of HV Carter’s drawings, Henry Gray teamed with him to produce one of the most popular and longer-lived anatomy books in history: “Gray’s Anatomy”, which was first published in late 1857.  The book itself, about which many papers have been written, was immediately accepted and praised because of the clarity of the text as well as the incredible drawings of Henry Vandyke Carter.

While working on the book’s drawings, HV Carter continued his studies and received his MD in 1856.

In spite of initially being offered a co-authorship of the book, Dr. Carter was relegated to the position of illustrator by Henry Gray and never saw the royalties that the book could have generated for him. For all his work and dedication, Dr. Carter only received a one-time payment of 150 pounds. Dr.  Carter never worked again with Gray, who died of smallpox only a few years later.

Frustrated, Dr. Carter took the exams for the India Medical Service.  In 1858 he joined as an Assistant Surgeon and later became a professor of anatomy and physiology. Even later he served as a Civil Surgeon. During his tenure with the India Medical Service he attained the ranks of Surgeon, Surgeon-Major, Surgeon-Lieutenant-Colonel, and Brigade-Surgeon.

Dr. Carter dedicated the rest of his life to the study of leprosy, and other ailments typical of India at that time. He held several important offices, including that of Dean of the Medical School of the University of Bombay. In 1890, after his retirement, he was appointed Honorary Physician to the Queen.

Dr. Henry Vandyke Carter died of tuberculosis in 1897.

Personal note: Had history been different, this famous book would have been called “Gray and Carter’s Anatomy” and Dr. Carter never gone to India. His legacy is still seen in the images of the thousands of copies of “Gray’s Anatomy” throughout the world and the many reproductions of his work available on the Internet. We are proud to use some of his images in this blog. The image accompanying this article is a self-portrait of Dr. Carter. Click on the image for a larger depiction. Dr. Miranda

1. “Obituary: Henry Vandyke Carter” Br Med J (1897);1:1256-7
2. “The Anatomist: A True Story of ‘Gray’s Anatomy” Hayes W. (2007) USA: Ballantine
3. “A Glimpse of Our Past: Henry Gray’s Anatomy” Pearce, JMS. J Clin Anat (2009) 22:291–295
4. “Henry Gray and Henry Vandyke Carter: Creators of a famous textbook” Roberts S. J Med Biogr (2000) 8:206–212.
5. “Henry Vandyke Carter and his meritorious works in India” Tappa, DM et al. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol (2011) 77:101-3

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J. Marion Sims

This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.To search all the articles in this series, click here.

J. Marion Sims (1813 – 1883). American surgeon and gynecologist. James Marion Sims is considered the “Father of Gynecology". He was born in Hanging Rock, South Carolina. At age 12 he moved to Lancaster, South Carolina. Sims studied at the SC College and later moved to Philadelphia, PA where he studied Medicine at the Jefferson Medical College, graduating in 1835. He returned to Lancaster to practice, but shortly after moved to Montgomery, Alabama. 

In 1845 Sims started his studies to close vesicovaginal fistulas, operating in the same patient many times. He was finally able to do this using a lateral recumbent position (later called Sims’ position) and a specially designed, U-shaped, vaginal retractor (later called Sims’ speculum). For this procedure he used silver wire as suture material. His findings were published in 1852 in his paper entitled “On the Treatment of Vesico-Vaginal Fistula” 

After moving to New York J. Marion Sims helped in the founding and establishing the Woman's Hospital in the State of New York in 1855. Sims moved to Europe during the American Civil War. In Europe he became well-known and in 1866 published his book “Clinical Notes on Uterine Surgery”. While in Paris Sims performed the first cholecystostomy to relieve a blocked gallbladder.

J. Marion Sims
Original image courtesy of NLM

He continued his contribution to gynecology advancing uterine prolapse surgery, advocating hysterectomy for bleeding fibroids, and suggested total hysterectomy as the only means of curing uterine cancer. One of his last contributions (not well accepted initially) was the indication for immediate exploratory laparotomy in abdominal gunshot wounds, burst ectopic pregnancy and any other sharp abdominopelvic trauma.

Sims died in New York on November 13, 1883

Sims’s life was and still is the cause of controversy. His use of slave patients, his professional jealousy and egotism, and his more than once reported disdain for patient privacy would not be accepted by today’s standards. Today in Lancaster his name helps the community thorough the “J. Marion Sims Foundation” dedicated to “support prevention and educational programs that help the citizens of Lancaster and the communities of Great Falls and Fort Lawn”

1. “The Influence of J. Marion Sims on Gynecology” Heaton CE Bull N Y Acad Med 1956 32 (9): 685–688
2. “J. Marion Sims, the Father of Gynecology: Hero or Villain?” Sartin, JS South Med J 2004;97(5):500-505
3. “J. Marion Sims: A Defense of the Father of Gynecology” O’Leary JP South Med J 2004;97(5):427-429
4. “Carl Langenbuch and the First Cholecystectomy” Traverso LW Am J Surg 1976; 132; 81-82

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