The History of Osteopathy

Dr Andrew Taylor Still 1828-1917

Andrew Taylor Still was born in 1828 in a log cabin in Lee County, Virginia into a large family where pioneering was encouraged. Still’s father was a physician, minister, and frontiersman who took care of the bodies and souls of his rural neighbors in Virginia, Tennessee, and Missouri.

The family’s covered-wagon moves and backwoods life gave Still the opportunity as a young boy to spend hours observing the wonders of nature. His father encouraged this, and acted as a tutor, instructing Andrew in the structure and function of what the boy considered to be an awe-inspiring world.

Because he was the son of a Methodist circuit rider who was also a country physician, Andrew also become exposed to a darker side of life; diseases such as cholera, smallpox, and meningitis that often wiped out entire families. At an early age Still became aware of the lack of knowledge of the cause and treatment of these devastating diseases. He recognized the tragic toll of such ignorance, and decided there must be a better way.

Although Still had long been aware of the appalling degree of medical ignorance which existed at that time, it was a tragedy in his own life that propelled him toward a search for answers and the development of osteopathic medicine. In 1874 Missouri was ravaged by an epidemic, one now identified as viral meningitis. Dr. Still lost three children that spring. Although a physician he had no way to cure them – no way to help them.

Still’s loss sent him on a personal and professional search for the truth. He was driven to understand why some people became sick, and others remained healthy. The doctor grew to reject the prevailing medical practices of frequent amputation and the overuse of drugs.

He called his new system of medicine “osteopathy” (osteon is Greek for bone), because it was based on anatomy. Still developed his methods of diagnosis and treatment by relying on the belief that the human being should be treated as a unit. A person cannot get sick in one area of his body without having other areas affected. All body systems operate in unison.

Through experimentation and clinical observation, Still developed the art of osteopathic treatment, applied directly to the musculoskeletal system. In addition, he eliminated many toxic drugs from his practice.

Dr. Still was eager to present his new ideas and methods of treatment to the medical community. He selected Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas as the place for his presentation, a school Still and his family had helped found. The University refused him. Turned down by his peers, but determined he was right, Dr. Still settled in Kirksville, Missouri and began practicing the osteopathic medicine he had developed. His reputation spread, and soon people from all over the United States were travelling to Kirksville for his treatments. As his fame increased, so did the attacks by his former medical colleagues. Still was called a “crank,” “faker,” and a man who had lost all reason. He was scorned by most, but not all. An increasing number of doctors were drawn to Still and his methods. In 1892 the first formal classes in the teaching of osteopathic medicine met in Kirksville, later to become the American School of Osteopathy.

Andrew Taylor Still;

  • Was the first to identify the human immune system and develop a system for stimulating it naturally.
  • Was the first to welcome women and minorities into medical school.
  • Predicted that this nation would have a major drug addiction problem within the century if physicians did not stop over-prescribing addictive drugs.
  • Warned that women were far too often the victims of needless surgeries.
  • Believed that physicians should study prevention as well as cure.
  • Believed that disease in one body part affects all other parts.

 

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