Making the Frontier’s Anatomical Engineers: Osteopathy, A. T. Still (1828–1917), his Acolytes and Patients
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This project seeks to understand osteopathy as patients, students, and doctors did during the late nineteenth century. A. T. Still’s osteopathic medical theories proclaimed manual therapeutics to treat disease. Still’s explanation for illness drew heavily on his learnings from the natural world, which he captured in his autobiography. These were teachings from a distant but divine creator who made man a “a perfect machine, that was made and put in running order, according to God's judgment.” Still imbued osteopathy with a humility and simplicity that invited patients to understand and evaluate their treatments as active participants. The first students at Still’s American School of Osteopathy profoundly shaped the discipline. Founded in 1892 in Kirksville, Missouri, the school saw massive growth during the period from 1892 to 1898. Using student ledger books, I analyze the first students to determine who became osteopaths. Many of these students came to osteopathy as a second career, after having worked as farmers or teachers, and most of them would not have sought training nor been accepted into a traditional medical school. Osteopaths have long celebrated their acceptance of women as equal practitioners. Women were welcome to osteopathic training, but gender shaped their experience and career outcomes. Contrary to modern thought, this early support did not mean that women’s experiences were the same as men’s experiences. Women were able to practice osteopathy without living the cloistered life of a nurse, nor were osteopathic women forced to choose between a feminine gender identity and being a physician, which was a perpetual struggle for many woman medical doctors. The therapeutic encounter between osteopath and patient helped explain the appeal of osteopathic medicine. Using patient testimonials from osteopathic journals, I examine the practicality, optimism, and patient-centered evaluation in osteopathic medicine. Still and the early osteopaths defended their drugless medicine and fought for its legal status. Patients played a key role in this process. By centering the claims for legitimacy on patients and their outcomes, Still’s therapies were accepted due to their perceived efficacy, not their adherence to medical orthodoxy.
Table of Contents
Introduction and historiography -- A.T. Still and the idea of the Frontier -- From farmers and teachers to osteopaths -- Gender and osteopathy -- The therapeutic encounter -- Conclusion
Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)