Near the turn of the 19th century, the son of a pioneer
physician took another look at the way things were being done in medicine
and saw a better way. Always fascinated by the human anatomy and the
science of healing, Andrew Taylor Still pursued a life of study and practice
to eventually establish the healing art of osteopathy*.
Still first articulated the idea of improving medical
practice while living in Kansas in 1874. It was at that time, he had a seminal
thought: The human body has much in common with a machine, one which ought to
function well if it is mechanically sound.
Still was a typical frontier physician, having been trained
through apprenticeship, with some medical lectures attended later. Like nearly all
frontier physicians, he did many things besides practice medicine: farming,
mechanical work, and fighting in the Civil War. His medical practice included caring
for both settlers and American Indians. He faced epidemics such as cholera, malaria,
pneumonia, smallpox, diphtheria, and tuberculosis. After the War, spinal
meningitis claimed three of his children and he began searching for a better system
This new system promised simply to support health, which on
the surface would not seem controversial. But the end of the 19th century was a time
of multiple schools of healing, and on the frontier there was medical competition and a
mistrust of new ideas.
Faced with the apprehension to his science, Still became an
itinerant physician, first in Kansas, then in Missouri. He tried out his mechanical
skills, and he talked to anyone who would listen about his new methods, which centered
around treating the body by improving its natural functions. He continued to use
some drugs at first, but gradually he achieved good results without them. In time,
he came to condemn nearly all the drugs used in his day.
Still's treatment methods, which included manipulation
designed to improve circulation and to correct altered mechanics, began to show
results. In 1889 the number of patients traveling to see Still at his newly-founded
infirmary became so great that he was forced to stay in Kirksville, Missouri rather than
traveling to see patients. He became busier, and people began to speak of him with
respect and understanding.
Three years later, Still opened the American School of
Osteopathy. Early students learned anatomy from William Smith, M.D., a Scotsman who
had studied medicine in Edinburgh and had become interested in osteopathic medicine while traveling
in the United States. He was the first to receive a D.O. degree. Still taught
osteopathic medical practice by lecture and demonstration and through practice with his
own patients. The ASO awarded 18 diplomas in March, 1894. More schools opened
after the ASO, and graduates spread around the country in private practices.
Once the study and practice of osteopathic medicine
were well under way, education, research,
and recognition of the new healing art continued
to grow with the help of professionals dedicated to treating people as a
Photo property of the Still National Osteopathic
Museum, Kirksville, MO.
List of AOA
Annotated Text from AOA Yearbook: "The Historic Background of Osteopathic
in Osteopathic History
A.T. Still Memorial Lecturers: Listing of honorees and publication references
Distinguished Service Certificates: Listing of honorees and area of service