Were Osteopaths viewed as doctors in the 19th Century?
In the last quarter of the 19th Century in the United States, Osteopathy posed a significant challenge to existing physicians. At the end of the 19th century, medicine in America was dominated by three separate competing medical sects - regular (M.D.), homeopaths and eclectic physicians. Each sect advanced competing theories explaining the causes of disease and illness. The emerging science surrounding germ theory threatened to upend the medical doctrine of all three sects.
The Birth of Osteopathy
Andrew T. Still, a former Regular physician from Missouri, developed the treatments that morphed into Osteopathy during the 1870s and 1880s. In 1874, Still renounced Regular medicine and became a magnetic healer. Magnetic healers passed magnets over a patient’s body to restore the flow of the “invisible magnetic fluid” that circulated throughout the body. Magnetic healing was developed in Austria in late eighteenth century and migrated to the United States. Magnetic healers postulated that people became ill when this fluid pooled inside the body instead of flowing freely.
While practicing magnetic healing, Still added bonesetting to his practice to attract more patients. Bonesetters alleviated pain by moving bones back into alignment. Bonesetting had been practiced since colonial times, and these specialists were dispersed widely throughout the country. After learning the bonesetter trade, Still became convinced that bonesetting could do more than just address simple aches and pain. He argued that it had the potential to cure chronic conditions such as asthma.
During the 1870s and 1880s, Still traveled around Missouri and demonstrated his healing techniques. He avoided prosecution for his work because he was licensed as a Regular physician. Still’s demonstrations intrigued numerous people, and he convinced a number of people that his techniques had merit. By 1889, he was successful enough to establish a hospital in Kirksville, Missouri. At this time, he proclaimed to the public that he had discovered a new branch of medicine. Next, Still opened an Osteopathic school in Kirksville. After establishing the American School of Osteopathy, he began to draw the attention of the Missouri State Board of Health and the medical societies of three major sects in Missouri.
- Gevitz, Norman, The DOs: Osteopathic Medicine in America, 2nd edition, (John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 1982, 2004), 13-15.
- Gevitz, 17-19
- Gevitz, 20-28