History of Osteopathy

Founder Andrew Taylor Still grew up in the American state of Virginia in a strongly religious home. He believed that all of creation was perfect, including the human body. He proclaimed that a perfect body would be able to heal itself and would contain within it the means to do so.

His father served the community as a minister-physician and Andrew often accompanied him on his rounds, and read as many books as he could find. Andrew Still was issued an MD degree by the state of Missouri.

With exposure to anatomy through helping his father, hunting, war and cadaver research, he became a lifelong proponent that a strong background in anatomy was crucial to understanding and treating injuries, disorders and disease.

During the mid 1800’s American medical practitioners were frequently poorly trained and had little understanding of disease or of its causes. Allopathic (medical) treatments were unsophisticated to the point of being dangerous, and included laxatives, purgatives, bloodletting, narcotics, and drugs of dubious content. Dehydration, drug addiction, alcoholism, and drug poisoning were common results. Infectious diseases were rampant, and 3 of Andrew Still’s children died of meningitis.

Frustrated with what he saw, he began to develop his own systemic method of treatment including a form of musculoskeletal manipulation to help the body maintain a balanced state of health. On June 22, 1874 Dr Andrew Taylor Still broke with orthodox medicine and identified his techniques as Osteopathic.

As all pioneers of new thought, he was exposed to ridicule, was dismissed and challenged by the medical profession, and ostracized by the church. He began treating people in outlying farms effectively, and soon his work’s reputation grew to the point that a new hotel had to be built by the railroad station to accommodate visiting patients. Eventually a sanitarium was built for treatment and teaching. In 1892, he started the American School of Osteopathy.

Dr Still never specifically wrote a technique book because he believed that his students should know anatomy extremely well and be able to devise their own techniques based on the needs of the client and their specific situation. He did write 2 concept books and an autobiography before dying in 1917 at 89 years of age.

When he died he left behind a school and profession struggling to be recognized by the American Health Care System. By 1900 his school had over 700 students. Other osteopathic schools were established with varying degrees of quality, background and training. In 1910 Abraham Flexner was commissioned by the Rockefeller Institute to evaluate every medical and osteopathic training program in the US, and this helped to purge out the inferior schools. Because Flexner used the curricula of the Johns Hopkins University Medical School as the gold standard, osteopathic colleges were forced to update their medical curricula, and to include pharmacology.

Doctors of Osteopathy (DO) pursued further mainstream credibility, built their practices, gained hospital privileges, and developed a mechanism for the accreditation of their colleges and hospitals. This was very difficult, as the American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics forbade MDs from having any professional interaction with DOs. One of the rights to be established was to obtain equal recognition with MDs in the military. During WWII MDs were drafted and DOs were not. When MDs returned after the war they had lost many of their patients to the DOs that remained behind. As a result the AMA (American Medical Association) lobbied for equal representation of the AOA (American Osteopathic Association) in the military. It took until 1966 for this to occur.

The AOA still fights to represent its members and their right to participate in Health Care Insurance Plans, and to participate in federal and state health care bills and laws.


J. Martin Littlejohn Do, MD came to the US from Scotland and founded the Chicago College of Osteopathy. He then moved to London, England and was instrumental in founding the British School of Osteopathy, from which Osteopathy spread throughout Europe.

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