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Andrew Taylor Still Establishes Osteopathy

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 of medicine.

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, organization, documentation and recognition of the new healing art continued to grow with the help of professionals dedicated to treating people as a whole.

* To better convey to the public that US-trained DOs are fully licensed physicians, the term osteopathic medicine has replaced the term osteopathy in most uses and the term osteopathic physician has replaced the term osteopath. Both the terms osteopathy and osteopath are primarily used in historical context when describing the profession and its practitioners before 1960. These terms are also used to describe the profession as it is practiced outside the United States by practitioners who have not been trained at AOA-accredited osteopathic medical colleges.


Andrew Tayor Still. Photo property of the Still National Osteopathic Museum, Kirksville, MO.
Photo property of the Still National Osteopathic Museum, Kirksville, MO.

For Further Reading

List of AOA Presidents

Annotated Text from AOA Yearbook: "The Historic Background of Osteopathic Medicine"

Important Dates in Osteopathic History

The Osteopathic Oath

A.T. Still Memorial Lecturers: Listing of honorees and publication references

Distinguished Service Certificates: Listing of honorees and area of service

© 2006 American Osteopathic Association
Images on this Web site are property of the American Osteopathic Association Archives unless otherwise noted.
Special thanks to the AOA Committee on Osteopathic History and the Still National Osteopathic Museum.

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