Dr. A.T. Still – The Founder of Osteopathy

A brief history of Dr. A.T. Still and the birth of Osteopathy

Dr. Andrew Taylor Still was born in Lee County Virginia on August 6th 1828. His father, Abraham Still was a Methodist minister, millwright and physician who would later teach his five sons the science of the times. His family first made a living in the trade of hunting for food and making their clothes from the skins of animals they hunted. Dr. Still grew up with an intense curiosity of nature and living things. He examined the muscles, nerves and bones through dissection of the animals he killed while hunting which would begin the preparation for study of human anatomy.

At the age of 10 years old he suffered from a great headache and was compelled to make a sling of rope between two trees with its apex about 8 inches from the ground. He lay down with the sling behind his neck and went to sleep. Upon waking he discovered that the headache was gone as well as the ill stomach that accompanied it. This would be known as “the saint’s rest” and was used by Dr. Still throughout his life. In the 1860’s he attended the attended the college of physicians and surgeons in Kansas City, Missouri.

Throughout the Civil war that erupted in America, the life of Dr. Still was vastly entrenched in history as he and his family were strong supporters of the abolitionist faction that were in favour of equality pertaining to race and sex.

He was enlisted in a cavalry division assigned to Jim Lane and later organized a militia in Kansas. Dr. Still was commissioned a Major and was deeply entrenched in active duty, later to become a military surgeon. His unit was disbanded in October 1864 where he returned home to civilian life. During this year a horrible event occurred when he lost 3 of his children to spinal meningitis despite the best efforts that medicine at the time could offer.

Over the next 10 years of Stills life, he devoted himself to the study of anatomy and the human condition in search of the truths within the pages of the great book of nature. Throughout these years he linked his name to methods of the times and was known as “the lightning bone setter” and “magnetic healer”. The term “bone setter” is self explanatory however it should be understood that the term “Magnetic Healer” was derived from the process that combined spiritualism and healing by seeking to restore the balance of invisible magnetic fluids which circulate throughout the body. It is mentioned throughout texts that the premise behind magnetic healing is through the balance of interactive body parts and unobstructed flow of fluids.

In the year 1874 many events occurred in Dr. Still’s life. While still living in Baldwin Kansas, he experienced a prophetic vision and “Flung to the breeze, the banner of Osteopathy”. His attempts to get a hearing and present his findings at Baker University were denied even though it was his family that helped in its development. Still was furthermore ejected from the Methodist church on the basis that only Christ was allowed to heal with the laying on of hands, even though his description of the approach was of manual manipulation and not that of some form of divine touch.

During the year of 1875, Dr. Still moved to Kirksville Missouri where he spent the rest of his life. As his reputation grew, the practice evolved into precise manipulative therapy. It was not long until the sheer numbers of patients that flocked into his office became a heavy burden. Dr. Still began to recruit apprentices and then to teach the approach, however it was largely unsuccessful due to their lack of anatomical knowledge.

The term “Osteopathy” was coined in the year 1889 and was governed to work with the principles of natural law and inherent forces within the body. The first school was a 1 room schoolhouse with a class of 21 men and women which included members of Dr. Stills family and local people from the community. This school was named the “American School of Osteopathy” and was chartered in May of the year 1892. The original faculty consisted of Dr. Still and a Scottish physician named Dr. William Smith who taught anatomy in exchange for learning Osteopathy.

The growth of the American School of Osteopathy evolved quickly from a course of only a few months in duration. In the year 1894 the course was 2 years long (2 terms of 5 months each). In the year 1895, there were 28 students, the following summer there were over 100 and by the year 1900 there was an astonishing 700 students with a faculty of 18.1

In 1896, Vermont becomes the first state to legally licence DO’s, the second state is North Dakota. The following year was another great time as Missouri grants DO’s licensure and Dr. Still publishes his book “Autobiography of A.T. Still” In 1899 Dr. Still publishes his book “Philosophy of Osteopathy” In the year 1910, at the age of 82 years old, Dr. Still published his book “Research and Practice”.2

Dr. Still passed away in Kirksville Missouri on December 12th 1917.