12th December 2017 is the 100 year anniversary of the death of
Andrew Taylor Still – The Father of Osteopathy
Andrew Taylor Still was the man who discovered Osteopathy and developed the principles and practices of this healing art into a distinctive system of health care. He was a character from a bygone era, a 19th century reformer, visionary, philosopher, and innovator.
For those of us who utilise Osteopathic principles and practice on a daily basis, Dr Still has become a well-loved, yet distant mythological figure of antiquated associations and fossilised ideas. In fact, the modern osteopathic profession is almost embarrassed by its’ heritage – regarding him as something of a snake-oil pedlar – but this does him an injustice; he was an extraordinary man living in extraordinary times, to whom we owe a great debt of gratitude.
Andrew Still was a free thinker with tremendous courage and vitality. As he said, “The mechanical principles on which Osteopathy is based are as old as the universe.” By studying the fundamental principles he uncovered, we are only learning the most basic natural laws of healing.
Like so many people living in small isolated communities at that time AT Still had numerous roles – professions – people were primarily self-taught or learnt from their elders. Over his lifetime he was a farmer, hunter, medical doctor, inventor, machinist, state legislator, soldier, patriot, Civil War veteran, abolitionist, feminist, temperance supporter, Freemason, osteopath and educator. Throughout it all he was a dedicated family man.
In our “modern” society that values educational degrees and titles over wisdom and experience perhaps the thought of a 19th century self-educated country doctor founding and guiding the Osteopathic profession is untenable.
Here is his remarkable life story…..
Andrew (Drew) Stills’ father, Abram, was the son of a frontiersman of Scotch-Irish descent and a woman of Dutch descent.
His mother Martha, was of Scotch-Irish and German breeding. Her father (Drew’s maternal grandfather), James Moore IV was kidnapped at the age of 14 by Black Wolf, a Shawnee Indian Chief who killed James’ parents and sold him as a slave to a French trader in Detroit.
Abram became a Methodist minister and frontier medical doctor and Andrew, born in August 1828 Andrew was the third of nine children .
Truly a child of the Wild West.
When Drew was just 8 years old, the whole family (then 6 children, the youngest less than 1 year old) travelled for 7 weeks in two covered wagons drawn by six horses over 700 miles from eastern Tennessee through Kentucky across the Ohio River through the southern tip of Illinois, northwest to St. Louis, then crossing the Mississippi River traveling to north central Missouri in Macon County.
Legend has it that at 10 years old Drew fashioned a low slung rope swing, whereby he lay on the ground and rested the base of his skull on the rope as self-treatment for a headache – claimed to be the first Osteopathic treatment
He married at 21 and began ‘formal’ two year apprenticeship with his father to become a medical doctor. At 25 he and his wife, Mary, had two children and moved with his father to a community on Shawnee Indian Reservation land in Kansas, where his father was the Methodist preacher and Drew farmed; together they tended to the medical needs of the native Indian community.
By the time he was 27 he was starting to question medical tradition and look at ‘new’ methods of healing- first studying magnetic healing, and then his interest passes to technology and mechanics – he built a steam powered sawmill, invented a mowing machine to harvest wheat, an improved butter churn and an anti-pollution device that allowed smokeless combustion in coal burning furnaces – a device he succeeded in patenting.
At 31 he is a widow with 3 living children. His third born child had died at just one day old, his fifth died at just 5 days of age shortly followed by his wife just two months later. He remarries a year later to another Mary (a marriage that was to last 50 years until her death) and barely 9 months on their first child, a son, dies at just 6 weeks. A mortality rate that in our modern age we can barely comprehend.
His autobiography reports that in the early 1860’s he attended further medical training at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in Kansas City, Missouri but that he left the course early due to “personal conflicts regarding the curriculum”. Mysteriously, no records demonstrate evidence of the existence of the school or of his attendance….
In 1864, aged 36, when fighting in the civil war, a ruptured inguinal hernia causes him to be discharged from the Union army and puts paid to his ability to carry out the heavy work of farming, so he decides to devote more time to his doctoring.
Within weeks tragedy strikes, three of Dr Still’s children die of spinal meningitis within a 2 week period; his two youngest surviving children from his first marriage and an adopted daughter – leaving him with his eldest, Marusha, aged 15, and his new baby. Two weeks later the baby, Iona, only a year old and the only surviving child of the two borne of his second marriage, dies of pneumonia. He is consumed with grief.
Drew and Mary went on to have four more children (including a set of twins) all of whom survive to adulthood.
Over the next ten years Andrew Still describes himself as a magnetic healer and begins to explore bone-setting as a healing art. In 1874 he experiences an epiphany, ‘a moment of truth and realisation’ of the principles of what would become known in time as Osteopathy. Enthused by his discovery and with an evangelical zeal he presents his new ideas to Baker University, a Methodist college co-founded by his father.
The Methodist Church was horrified, and he is kicked out. Because of his “laying on of hands” Dr Still is accused of trying to emulate Jesus Christ and is labelled an agent of the devil. He was reviled by the local medical doctors, called insane by his family and ostracized by his friends and patients. He was condemned as practicing voodoo medicine and his practice dropped off rapidly. He was socially and professionally ostracized, financially destitute and was ultimately forced to move his family to Macon, Missouri in 1875 and then to Kirksville, Missouri where he quietly practices his skills.
Andrew Still was advocating a novel approach to the health care of sick and injured people but in the conservative, puritanical, closed-minded and prudish era of the late 1800’s the idea of using touch as a method of healing was a step too far. The opposition to using even a therapeutic form of touch was pervasive, not only in the rural Midwest but throughout all of America.
For the next 10 years or so Dr Still works as an itinerate physician – migrating from town to town in rural Missouri – away from his wife and children for months at a time. Although he coins the term Osteopathy in 1885, he formally advertises himself as a Lightning Bone setter (not an Osteopath, but no longer as a medical doctor).
Only after years practicing with integrity and clear physical boundaries was he able to convince people, by his genuine actions and positive results, that Osteopathy worked. By 1886 (aged 58) he finds that work is so plentiful that he can remain in one place (Kirksville, Missouri) and let patients come to him. In 1890 he declares himself an Osteopath and in 1892, aged 64, he opens The America School of Osteopathy in Kirksville.
We don’t know how many students were in the original intake but five of them were his own children, and one his older brother, Edward. The second intake in 1894 admits 30 students to the programme.
By 1897 the osteopathic profession is legally licensed in Vermont, North Dakota and Missouri – practitioners being allowed to use the letters DO (Diploma in Osteopathy) after their name.
Andrew Still went on to write many books on Osteopathic philosophy, practice and principles and he conducted a considerably body of research into osteopathy, but by 1906 age 78 his health was failing and he lost his beloved wife Mary (‘Mother Still’) in 1910. In 1914 he suffers a stroke from which he never fully recovers, and on December 12th 1917, aged 89, he dies.
Adapted from an article by Steve Paulus, DO