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Dynamic Chiropractic – March 12, 2001, Vol. 19, Issue 06

Chiropractic at the Turn of the Century

By Joseph Keating Jr., PhD
Temper of the Times

1901: It was the dawn of a new century, wondrous and mysterious and compelling in its promise. Victory in the Spanish-American War was still fresh in the American mind, but Theodore Roosevelt would not assume the presidency until the assassination of William McKinley in September.

The Wright brothers were still experimenting with gliders to work out the aerodynamic details of flight control surfaces. Marconi was dabbling with wireless telegraphy, that would eventually become radio and television, and Einstein had not yet issued his first theory of relativity. The Oldsmobile Company was only four years old, and Sigmund Freud, MD, had only recently (1898) released his seminal work, in psychoanalysis, An Interpretation of Dreams. The hydraulic concepts inherent in the Viennese physicians's volcanic psychodynamics were in synchrony with the world views of the age of machines and the industrial revolution.

A half-century after their abolition, the re-introduction of medical practice acts was well underway (see Table 1). The American Medical Association (AMA) was increasingly successful in eliminating or absorbing eclectic and homeopathic medical schools, and was determined to contain and eliminate midwifery. However, new challenges to allopathy's authority were multiplying. Members of the osteopathic profession had endured prosecutions for unlicensed practice since 1893, but by 1901 some 14 states had authorized licensure for DOs (Gevitz, 1982, pp. 40-2), and osteopathic education had already spread as far as California (Booth, 1924, p. 89). Patent medicine vendors flourished, as yet unfettered by the Pure Food & Drug Act of 1906, and traveling medicine shows were very popular. Practitioners of electrical medicine were likewise gaining ground, especially in the AMA's backyard: Chicago.

Table 1: Enacted medical statutes in America to 1901 (courtesy of Robert B. Jackson, DC,ND)*
1873:   Arizona Territorial Act
1874:   Missouri
1875:   Nevada
1875-6:   California
1876:   Vermont
1878:   Cherokee and Choctow nations in indian territory
1879:   Kansas, Texas
1881:   Colorado
1886:   Iowa
1889:   Idaho, North Carolina, Tennessee
1890:   Florida, Washington
1891:   Alabama, Nebraska, North Dakota
1892:   Maryland, Mississippi
1893:   Connecticut, Kentucky, New York, Pennsylvania, South Dakota
1894:   Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland amended, New Jersey, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia
1895:   Arkansas, Delaware, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Oregon, Rhode Island, New York amended
1896:   District of Columbia, Ohio
1897:   New Hampshire, Wisconsin
1899:   Illinois, Michigan, Wyoming-no date listed-but defined
*Source:   Wilder A. History of medicine. New Sharon ME: New England Eclectic Publishing Company, 1901, pp. 775-835 (Synopsis of Medical Statutes).

In New York City, Dr. Benedict Lust had only recently begun operations of his American School of Naturopathy. The cause of natural healing and methods of naturopathy would be broadcast nationwide by means of Lust's journal, the Herald of Health. The Big Apple was also home to Bernarr Macfadden the health and body building movement, which was growing rapidly, promoted by means of his magazine, Physical Culture, and several books (Ernst, 1991).

Enter Palmer

Meanwhile, in the business district of Davenport, Iowa, the father of chiropractic, a magnetic practitioner transformed by the clinical results he had obtained with manual therapy, was occupied in the care of patients in his thriving, 40-bed facility on the fourth floor of the Ryan building. Canadian born Dr. Daniel David Palmer (1845-1913), a self-titled doctor, was also training a few individuals in the new healing art of chiropractic (see Table 2), although never more than three at a time (Palmer, 1910, p. 159). Incorporated as the Palmer School of Magnetic Cure in the summer of 1896 (Wiese, 1986), the institution came to be known as "Dr. Palmer's Chiropractic School & Cure" (Palmer, 1901).


Table 2: Some early chiropractic students at Palmer's School of Magnetic Cure, Davenport, Iowa, and their dates of graduation*
Leroy Baker, 1896*** Oakley G. Smith, 1899
W.A. Crawford, 1898? Christianson, 1900
Andrew P. Davis, MD, DO, 1898 O.B. Jones, 1900
B.O. Morse, 1898 Minora Paxson, 1900
L.W. Roberts, DO, 1898? H.H. Reiring, 1900
W. Ambrose Seeley, MD, 1898 Solon M. Langworthy, 1901
(Mrs.) J.C. Bowman, 1899 Allan Raymond, 1901
M.P. Brown, MD, 1899 Thomas H. Storey, 1901
Helen DeLendrence, 1899 H. Ray Stouder, 1901
Ralph (Thomas) Graham, 1899 E.E. (Lee) Sutton, 1901
William (Ernie) Simon, MD, 1899  
*see Advancement! Progress! Achievement! The Chiropractor 1906 (Apr/May); 2(5-6): 67; Gibbons, Russell W. The search for the first 15 "disciples." Chiropractic History 1983; 3: 23; He was all broke up. The Chiropractor 1905 (May); 1(6): 16-7; Keating JC. Letter to the editor: rediscovering the pioneers in photos. Chiropractic History 1993a (Dec); 13(2): 7-9; Lerner, 1954, p. 176; Palmer DD. The Chiropractic 1899, No. 26 (Palmer College Archives); and The Chiropractor 1906 (June); 2(7): 20
***Some dispute exists concerning whether Baker graduated from Palmer's School.

The "magnetic manipulator's" (Palmer, 1897) formal qualifications to operate a school for doctors were limited. Palmer had made his living as a teacher in the public grade schools of rural Iowa and Illinois in the 1870s and 1880s, and was listed as a member of the faculty of the Independent Medical College of Chicago during 1897-98 (Cramp, 1921, pp. 777-8). A Palmer-autographed copy of L.A. Stimson, M.D.'s 1900 volume, A Practical Treatise on Fractures and Dislocations, was signed by Palmer in 1901, which suggests that Old Dad Chiro had begun the self-education in the clinical and biological sciences that would serve him well in years to come. (The book is in the possession of the president of Southern California University of Health Sciences).

At the turn of the century, the chiropractic course in Davenport cost $500 (a sum which approximated the tuition at the best medical schools), but involved as few as two or three months training. Oakley G. Smith, an 1899 graduate of the Palmer school and subsequently the founder of the rival profession of naprapathy (Beideman, 1994), recalled his chiropractic training as barely an apprenticeship (Smith, 1932, pp. 5-6). Historian Russell Gibbons (1980) also describes the rudimentary character of early chiropractic education. However, to place this in interprofessional context, many medical schools in America in that day and age were also rather primitive, and most would be condemned by Abraham Flexner, PhD, in his historic report to the Carnegie Foundation on medical education in the United States and Canada (Flexner, 1910).

The Initial Conflict

In 1901, Palmer was still teaching the first of the several theories of chiropractic he eventually offered (Keating, 1991, 1992, 1993). This initial set of hypotheses and assumptions comprised a decidedly mechanistic view. Palmer likened the human body to a fine watch and identified himself as a "human mechanic" (Palmer, 1897). This first chiropractic theory, a derivative of his nine years of practice as a magnetic, proposed that inflammation (which Palmer saw as the essential characteristic of dis-ease) arose in the body due to friction between displaced anatomical parts.

From these ideas would eventually emerge his notion of "tone," which D.D. considered the centerpiece of his final chiropractic theories (Palmer, 1910, 1914). However, in 1901, not yet exclusively concerned with bones-pinching-nerves (Keating, 1995), Old Dad Chiro would manipulate to adjust any displaced anatomy he found, including arteries, veins, nerves, muscles, bones, ligaments and joints. The range of patient conditions Palmer accepted for treatment (his terminology at the time) was as broad as A.T. Still's osteopathy, although the theoretical bases for these two manipulative arts were distinct. Palmer's theory had most closely resembled osteopathic concepts when he described his treatment for cancer in the January 1897 issue of his advertiser:

Having found the cause of cancer, it is an easy thing to relieve the pressure upon the blood vessels and nerves. Arranging the body in a natural condition so that the circulation of blood is free and the pressure is removed from the nerves, the secretion and excretion becomes perfect, and the patient cannot help getting well. In other words, if all the different parts of the machinery of the human body were just right, secretion and excretion would be perfect and all the impurities would be thrown out the back door, instead of finding an outlet elsewhere (Palmer, 1897, p. 2).

Although Iowa had passed a medical practice act in 1886, the law had rarely been enforced, perhaps owing to the public's continuing reluctance to accept the exclusive authority of any one branch of the healing arts. Orthodox medicine was only beginning to establish its scientific authority; the first randomized, controlled clinical trials of pharmaceuticals were still nearly four decades in the future. In many respects, Palmer's vituperative commentaries on medical practice were mirrored in the public consciousness. The father of chiropractic made some allowance for MDs:
Medicines and medical doctors are necessary; we cannot get along without them (Palmer, 1896).

But he neglected to specify when he thought medication might be appropriate. Palmer minced no words in condemning what he thought were primitive and hazardous methods. Among the rhetoric that must have infuriated his medical competitors was:

For many years there has been growing in the public mind a suspicion that medicine is not a science, but that it is most experimental guess-work.

This ancient system of poisoning the sick has a lawful right to fill our poor-houses, Keeley institutes, and asylums with their poisoned victims. They are dosed with stimulants, sedatives, and narcotics until they must continue their use, even to self-destruction. These misguided unfortunates, half-living witnesses of medical incompetency, can be seen everywhere. Wasting diseases and premature deaths grow more frequent, in open defiance of medical skill (?) The simplest forms of fevers invade the family circle and leave death and desolation, as they did two thousand years ago, when the science (?) of medicine was in its infancy.

It is no wonder that the sick leave the regular medical fraternity and go to the "quacks" for relief (Palmer, 1896). and:

Drug doctors wish to keep people in ignorance by giving prescriptions written in Latin instead of plain English. Oftentimes, if you knew what the prescription called for, you would not so willingly shut your eyes , open your mouth, swallow whatever the doctor prescribed, and take the fearful consequences. Why not stop taking such deadly poisons and resort to natural methods? Is there any reason for poisoning a person because he or she is sick? People everywhere are tired of being drugged.

People have been led to believe that all medical laws were made for the "protection of the public against quacks." But the facts are, that these laws are usually framed by professional quacks for their own protection. These laws decide what school of doctors you shall employ. A diploma from one of these favored schools will protect any opium or whisky-soaked quack of that profession to poison and butcher unmolested...


If Health Boards were what their name implies, they would utilize some of their fondness for law by getting out injunctions against manufacturers of anti-toxin, instead of endeavoring to force this dangerous fad upon us...We are sick and tired of the monopoly of drugs and the ruling of medicine, which are at best only a speculative guess-work...Surgeons have studied the mechanical construction of man, medical men have studied everything else but man...Physicians pour drugs of which they know but little into bodies of which they know less... Laws should be made to protect the people, not a particular class or school (Palmer, 1897).

Palmer's strong words were met with equally intemperate discourse from a local allopathic doctor, Heinrich Matthey, MD, who had committed himself to sweeping all unlicensed healers from his community. Matthey opined in the Davenport Republican on 17 September 1899:
It is a pitiful sight that presents itself at this time - at a time of departure of this glorious century in our great republic: on the one hand, the most wonderful enlightenment in all sciences, and the accompanying benefits to the human race - and on the other, the brazen array of swindlers who are not ashamed to carry on their fraudulent manipulations - even at the bedside of the suffering - in a place where one would least suspect such frauds. We are all aware of this evil but are at present practically helpless...

Call them what you will - Christian Scientists, magnetic healers, cheiropaths, conjurors of disease, clairvoyants, somnambulists, spiritualists, palmists, natural healers, cancer doctors, Osteopaths - they are all the basest swindlers, and cannot be distinguished from the patent medicine manufacturers, and all those advertising quacks and institutes, by whose literature some have been driven to self-destruction, while others are confined in insane asylums. The experience of every physician with such unfortunates, whose minds have become diseased by this influence, tells him of the great danger, and should encourage him to wage a war of extermination against such conditions in our civilized country...

Another specimen is the magnetic healer or Cheiropath. Please remember, this monstrosity claims to have a diploma in heaven, which, he affirms invests him with supernatural powers. That such nonsense could be accepted seems hardly possible, yet such seems to be the case. I pity the poor patients who seek relief in his valley of death...I have but one end in view, and that is to teach the growing generation in such a way that they will not become the victims of similar impostors... (Matthey, quote in Lerner, 1954, pp. 203-6).

Enraged, Palmer devoted nearly half of the 1899 edition of his advertiser, The Chiropractic, to a systematic rebuttal of Matthey's charges. Their public feud would continue for several years. Historian Cyrus Lerner suggested that the enrollment at Palmer's school of a young man from Chicago, H.H. Reiring, may have been a plant by Matthey. Reiring paid his $500 tuition in March 1900, and soon began to brand Palmer a fraud. Old Dad Chiro ordered him off of school property, and when Reiring refused to leave unless his tuition was refunded, Palmer called the police. Although Reiring was arrested, Palmer failed to file a written complaint, and thereby left himself open to "a liability for a suit for false arrest" (Lerner, 1954, pp. 260-4). Historian Vern Gielow indicates that Reiring sued Palmer for misrepresenting the content of his educational offering (Gielow, 1981, p. 96).

Reiring's lawsuit was dismissed on 15 January 1901 (Gielow, 1981, p. 96), but the threat of prosecution and civil suits apparently hung over the father of chiropractic. In June of 1902, he relocated to Southern California, ostensibly to locate and help his friend and former pupil, Thomas H. Storey, DC, who was suffering from a mental disorder. But the real reasons for his departure probably had more to do with his legal and financial difficulties in Iowa. And soon he would run into legal difficulties in California (Zarbuck, 1989; Zarbuck & Hayes, 1990).

In the Aftermath

Left in charge of the debt-ridden Palmer School & Infirmary was young Bartlett Joshua Palmer, son of the founder, who had earned his chiropractic diploma from his father only a few months earlier. His days of major glory and grief were yet to come (Keating, 1997), but even in the short-term there were signs of special ability. The young Dr. Palmer (not yet 21 years of age) was a product not only of apprenticeship to his father, but was also a protâgâ of Professor Herbert Flint, who operated a traveling "vaudeville hypnotism show" (Lerner, 1954, pp. 265-6, 309). B.J. grasped the reins as "manager" of his absent father's facility, garnered a loan for the business (Gielow, 1981, p. 130), and in the next few years returned the institution to profitability.

One century ago the legal war between the "chiropractics" (not yet identified as "chiropractors") and the medical doctors was already underway, at least on a small scale. Although the entire "profession" at this point numbered fewer than two dozen Palmer graduates (plus whatever other alternative healers had assumed the designation "chiropractic"), Old Dad Chiro's aggressive tone, widespread testimonial advertising and strenuous resistance to the local allopathic onslaught had already created a microcosm of the profession's impending interprofessional fate.

Not yet in evidence was the intraprofessional strife that has since colored so much of the chiropractic century. Not until 1902 did the onset of disagreements over scope of practice ("mixing") and the earliest competition among schools of chiropractic come into view (Zarbuck, 1988). Not until 1903 would the first major change in D.D. Palmer's chiropractic theory appear (Keating, 1995). "Innate intelligence" would not make it's public debut until 1904 (Donahue, 1986, 1987). As the new century dawned, the consecration of "chiropractic philosophy" still awaited the first acquittal (in 1907) of a DC charged with unlicensed practice (Rehm, 1986) and the award of the first PhC ("Philosopher of Chiropractic") degree in 1908 (Keating, 1997, pp. 65-6).

Chiropractic at the turn of the century was still in gestation.


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Joseph Keating Jr., PhD
Phoenix, Arizona

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