At Reguliersgracht 92, corner with the Prinsengracht, you can see a small red house with a statue of a stork in a niche on the façade. The house itself dates from around 1675, the shop window from around 1880, all restored in 1994. Allegedly a midwife in the 17th century had her business here, advertised by the stork. At the Prinsengracht side you can see a nice example of a pothuis (well house). The building is a national monument.
Stork & Sundial
The statue of the stork in its niche was once made of wood, but has been replaced with a concrete replica. Storks were quite a common symbol in Holland, not just as a symbol of babies (according to an ancient European folklore, the stork is responsible for bringing babies to new parents), but also as a symbol of good luck. In the movie Ocean’s Twelve from 2004 (which takes place in Amsterdam for quite a bit), the city is introduced by nine images, each representing a letter in the town’s name. The R is represented by this red House with the Stork.
On the Prinsengracht side you can see a gable stone with a sundial. When he moved his office here in 1993, restoration architect Gerard Prins (1929-2017) received this as a gift from his employees. Of course the foliage of the trees on the canal hinders the functioning of the sundial quite a bit. Prins restored quite a few buildings in Amsterdam from 1956 on (including this house, the Claes Claeszhofje and the Amstelkerk).
Pothuis (Well House)
A pothuis, also known as a puthuis (well house), is a small extension to a building only half above ground level. These extensions were already used in the Middle Ages — mostly used to collect rainwater, they were accessible from the cellar of the house. In later times they were often enlarged and converted to small workshops or kitchen extensions. Eventually they even housed entire families when homes were scarce. Amsterdam has many of these extensions, but they can also be found in other parts of the Netherlands and in Germany. Many have monument status.
Midwife or Booze?
Every canal boat tour you take repeats the story that the house belonged to a 17th century midwife who advertised her business by showing the stork on the front of the house. However, the issue is debated, as some say it could also point to a liquor distillery, also called De Ooievaar (The Stork). That distillery, which was founded in 1883 by A. van Wees, is located at Driehoeksstraat 10 in the Jordaan district. The oldest known photo of this house, from 1894 by city photographer Jacob Olie, already shows the stork, but with a pub below it — perhaps that was the origin of the alternative story. In 1940 there was an Antiques & Curiosities shop here.
Midwives in the 17th and 18th Century
Midwives have probably been around for as long as people existed. From the 17th century on there were already courses to become a midwife, but the (mostly male) physicians criticised the profession, riddled as it was with superstitions, myths, strange practices, lack of knowledge and less than hygienic circumstances.
In the 17th century Dutch Republic midwives played an important role in childbirths. They worked under strict rules which the city set up and were educated by the local surgeon’s guilds — only in case of complications did they have to call a physician. Despite this the profession, mostly taken up by widows and older women, was not thought of highly. Many midwives were drunks and mostly concerned with the gains to be made. Amsterdam midwives were often independent practitioners, apart from a few city midwives (paid by the city) to help the poor in their disctrict.
City Rules for Midwives
In 1638 the city coucil installed the Collegium Medicum to oversee the work of physicians, apothecaries and midwives. The midwives earned as much as male skilled workers and were bound by strict city rules in Amsterdam since 1668 — they had to follow an expensive 4-year course, pass exams and had to be able to read and write. This reduced their number in Amsterdam first to 137, then to 110 and to only 90 around 1750, mostly because of the strict education demands and related costs. A special Collegium Obstetricium was appointed in 1696 to handle all things related to childbirths, including midwives, initiated by anatomist Frederik Ruysch (1638-1731).
Midwives were not allowed to administer medicine or use instruments, they had to be under 25 years old, be able to read and write, had to be married and have children themselves, were held to ask the name of the father before helping (the city did not want to take care of fatherless children), and so on. In 1754 the duration of the education was lengthened to six years. Amsterdam midwives were well-educated and the profession was protected against competition. From 1758 on unmarried women were also allowed to become midwives.
Giving birth at home was the norm here, the hospitals had quite a bad reputation because of the many fatal cases of puerperal fever. It would only be by the 19th century that better medical procedures came into play. Still, in 2014 around 16.5% of all childbirths in Amsterdam took place at home, rather than in the hospital — one generation ago that number was 60%.
A Dedicated Midwives School
In 1861 the Rijkskweekschool voor Vroedvrouwen (National School for Midwives) opened, first on Oudezijds Achterburgwal, then in 1880 on Prinsengracht, in 1900 in a dedicated building on Camperstraat in the eastern part of town. By 1961 there were more than 1200 midwives in Amsterdam. In 1975 the school moved to the Slotervaartziekenhuis (Slotervaart Hospital) in the western part of town (closed in 2018). The school building on Camperstraat was converted into apartments. The school moved to the Vlaardingenlaan.
If you see this after your page is loaded completely, leafletJS files are missing.