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History of Osteopathy

"Osteopathic medicine is not just something different, it's something more!"



Brief History of Osteopathic Medicine

Osteopathic Medicine is based upon a science of healing discovered by Andrew Taylor Still, MD in 1874. Dr. Still based this new science upon an absolute faith in a human beings innate capacity for self healing and a belief that if the Osteopath could remove the obstructions in the system, nature would provide the healing. It was his view that what we call disease is really just an effect of an abnormality or imbalance within a person’s body. “Disease in an abnormal body is just as natural as is Health when all the parts are in place”


Expanded History of Osteopathic Medicine

In the U.S.A. there are two types of physicians trained and licensed to provide comprehensive medical care.  They are Doctors of Osteopathy (D.O.’s) and Medical doctors (M.D.’s).  Both can prescribe medications and perform surgery.  Both can specialize in anesthesiology, pediatrics, internal medicine, emergency medicine, psychiatry, radiology, etc. Both must meet the necessary education and licensure requirements to practice medicine, but only D.O.’s are trained to utilize the musculoskeletal system as a diagnostic and therapeutic tool in the treatment of disease along with appropriate drugs and surgery.

Theodore Roosevelt, Helen Keller, William Randolph Hearst, George Bernard Shaw, William Howard Taft, Nelson Rockefeller, and Mark Twain were aware of osteopathic medicine and advocated it.

Osteopathic medicine began with its founder, Andrew Taylor Still, M.D. Dr. Still learned medicine through an apprenticeship with his father and attended the Kansas City College of Physicians and Surgeons and also studied at McGill University in Montreal which at that time was believed to be the finest medical school on the continent.

Dr. Still was a community leader. He was a representative in the Kansas State Legislator to keep Kansas one of the free states.  He worked with Abraham Lincoln’s presidential campaign and served in the Ninth Cavalry as a major and surgeon.

It was only when Dr. Still’s three children (two born to he and his wife and a third adopted) died of spinal meningitis did he look for methods to improve the practice of medicine.  He began with the study of anatomy as he believed this to be the only true science of his day.  Many accepted medical practices of Dr. Still’s time would be considered unacceptable by today’s standards and it was for this reason he desired a science based more on reason and less on speculation.  Many of the practices employed at the time we know, now, were not helpful to the patient and were in some instances harmful (i.e. the use of mercurial compounds, bloodletting, etc.) His contribution to medicine was the development of a logical and effective means of improving abnormalities within the musculoskeletal system and thereby enhancing the physiological response of the body to disease.  He did not say the musculoskeletal system was the sole cause of disease but correcting the problems there would favorably influence the body’s return to health and decrease recovery time.

Although Dr. Still’s incorporation of musculoskeletal manipulation into his medical practice brought skepticism at first, his ability to get results where other established physicians did not, brought him much popularity.  Dr. Still’s petition to teach and explain his findings at Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas was rejected.  The decision was a painful one since his family had donated the land for the institution and then helped build it.  Nevertheless, Dr. Still’s respectability continued to grow.  Due to numerous requests he began the establishment of the “American School of Osteopathy” in 1892 chartered by the state of Missouri, which allowed it to grant the M.D. degree.  Dr. Still insisted on granting the D.O. degree instead in order to distinguish his graduates from other practicing physicians of the time.  The term Osteopathy also served as a reminder to the fact that the position of the bones served as a general starting point of diagnosing the musculoskeletal problems, but involved the careful evaluation of related soft tissue structures as well.  Dr. Still declared the school open to all regardless of race and gender, and had three women in his first class.

From the beginning the school was considered to be an institution that embraced all areas of the arts and sciences of medicine.  It was gauged to improve the practice of medicine, as the charter issued to the school indicated and read in part:

“To establish a College of Osteopathy, the design of which is to improve the present system of Surgery, Obstetrics and treatment of disease generally, and place the same on a more rational and scientific basis and to impart information to the medical profession and to grant and confer such honors and degrees as are usually granted and conferred by reputable medical colleges; to issue diplomas in testimony of the same to all students graduating from said school under the seal of the corporation, with the signature of each member of the faculty and of the president of the college.”

During Dr. Still’s stay in Kirksville, Missouri, not only was the American School of Osteopathy established but also grew in size to accommodate the ever increasing student body and growing practice.  The train depot was very busy, new hotels were being built and patients that could not be housed in hotels for lack of space were housed in boarding houses or private residences within easy reach.  A representative of the infirmary was at the train station day and night to help patients needing assistance.  Kirksville’s population went from 3,510 in 1892 to 5,966 in 1900.


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

Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, M.D., D.O.
Museum of Osteopathic Medicine Collection

Optimal Functional Medicine

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