Andrew Taylor Still was born August 6, 1828 in a log cabin in Lee County, Virginia.
Andrew (known as Drew by his siblings) was the third of Abram and Martha Still’s nine children. Abram Still worked for a Protestant church missionary as a minister and physician. Although Andrew spent most of his early life in Missouri (a pro-slavery state), he was an abolitionist like his father - and even before the Civil War broke out, allied with anti-slavery groups and protests.
In 1834, when Andrew was 6, the Still family moved from Virginia to New Market Tennessee. That same year, the Still family left Tennessee - traveling 7 weeks overland with 6 children (the youngest was not yet a year old) in two covered wagons and six horses.
It was this 700-mile journey from eastern Tennessee (through Kentucky, across the Ohio River, through the southern tip of Illinois, northwest to St. Louis, then across the Mississippi River) that brought them to north central Missouri.
At a very early age, Andrew decided to follow in his father's footsteps and become a physician. As was common in that day and age, Andrew self-studied medicine through various books and apprenticed under his father (so that he could put his knowledge into practice). Around 1849, he became a licensed MD in the state of Missouri. On January 24, 1849, the 20-year-old Dr. Still married Mary Margaret Vaughn (she was about 16). Later that year, their first child Marusha was born.
When his parents were transferred by the Methodist church to the Wakarusa Shawnee Indian Mission in eastern Kansas (a tribe which had been “relocated” from the East), Dr. Still and his family followed. Dr. Still learned to speak Shawnee, farmed (plowing 90 acres of land), and provided medical care to the Shawnee alongside his father.
Dr. Still’s family life at the Native American mission, however, was soon ended by the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854. The Act created the states of Kansas and Nebraska and opened new land for settlement. It also permitted voters in the new states to decide if slavery would be allowed or not. Pro-slavery southerners, including many Missourians, wanted to see Kansas become a slave state. Numerous pro-slavery settlers moved to Kansas in anticipation of voting in favor of slavery. Violence erupted between anti-slavery “Free-Stators” and pro-slavery “Border Ruffians”, leading to the nickname “Bleeding Kansas”.
Dr. Still continued to be an active abolitionist and was elected to represent Douglas County in the territorial legislature. By August 1858, a free-state Constitution had been passed and Kansas was admitted to the Union as a free state on January 29, 1861.
Of what value is a mind when placed in the brain of a coward?
- Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO
The struggle between anti-slavery and pro-slavery forces in Kansas often erupted in violence. One such example is the Marais des Cygnes Massacre. On May 19, 1858, a group of pro-slavery Missourians rode into Kansas Territory and killed eleven anti-slavery Free-State Kansans.
In September of 1859, Mary Margaret Vaughn died, two months after giving birth to the couple’s fifth child (who himself lived only 5 days).
At the age of 31, Dr. Still was a widower with 3 living children: Marusha (10), Abraham Price (7), and Susan (3). In November of the 1860, he married the 26-year-old school teacher Mary Elvira Turner. They remained married until her death, 50 years later.
Mary Elvira Turner (1834-1910) became known as the mother of osteopathic medicine.
In 1858, Dr. Still and his family were among the founders of Baker University in Baldwin City, the first four-year university in the state of Kansas. Dr. Still was involved in selecting the location for the site of Baker University's first building.
Along with his brother, Dr. Still donated 640 acres of land for the university campus. While maintaining his medical practice, where he treated patients afflicted with smallpox and
cholera, Dr. Still spent five years building out the facilities.
Dr. Still defined osteopathy as:
“that science which consists of such exact, exhaustive, and verifiable knowledge of the structure and function of the human mechanism, anatomical, physiological and psychological, including the chemistry and physics of its known elements, as has made discoverable certain organic laws and remedial resources, within the body itself, by which nature under the scientific treatment peculiar to osteopathic practice, apart from all ordinary methods of extraneous, artificial, or medicinal stimulation, and in harmonious accord with its own mechanical principles, molecular activities, and metabolic processes, may recover from displacements, disorganizations, derangements, and consequent disease, and regained its normal equilibrium of form and function in health and strength.”
On September 6, 1861, Dr. Still enlisted in the Union Army’s 9th Kansas Cavalry and served as a hospital steward “defacto surgeon" until he was discharged in 1862. He later served in the 18th and 21st Kansas Militia regiments. In October 1864, Still’s outfit saw action near Kansas City, helping to repel the Confederate forces advancing on the city. While treating the wounded, he first noticed the shortcomings of the conventional medical practices of the day.
After the war ended, Dr. Still returned home but was unable to farm due to a hernia he suffered during a Civil War battle. Out of necessity, and despite his doubts about conventional medicine of the day, he continued to work as a physician to provide for his family.
In 1864, two of Dr. Still's own children (Abraham, age 11, Susan, age 7), as well as a child he had adopted, died from meningitis all within two weeks’ time. And just two weeks after that, his youngest daughter (Marcia Iona, age 1) died of pneumonia.
From his wartime traumatic experiences - as well as the deaths of his children, Dr. Still concluded that the orthodox medical practices of his day were frequently ineffective and sometimes harmful. Many of the drugs that doctors prescribed - including arsenic, opium, mercury and castor oil - were toxic. Moreover, common medical practices such as purging, vomiting, blistering, and bleeding often left patients in a weakened condition - or led to their deaths.
Such an onslaught of suffering led Dr. Still to begin studying non-toxic, “bioregulatory-oriented” medical practices such as nutrition, hydrotherapy, magnetic healing and, in particular, “bone-setting”.
Dr. Still came to believe that a properly aligned musculoskeletal system would lead to good health, while an out-of-alignment system would result in poor health. He discovered that bones, muscles, and joints could be manipulated and adjusted to improve a patient's health without the use of drugs.
He called his theory and practice of bone-setting “osteopathy”. He invented the word by blending two Greek roots: osteon- for bone and -pathos for suffering in order to communicate his theory that disease and physiologic dysfunction were etiologically grounded in a disordered musculoskeletal system. Thus, by diagnosing and treating the musculoskeletal system, he believed that physicians could treat a variety of diseases and spare patients the negative side effects of drugs.
Dr. Still held a view common to early 19th-century proponents of natural healing and homeopathy supporting the idea that the body's natural state tends toward health and inherently contains the capacity to self-heal. This view was opposed to that of the orthodox practitioner, which held that intervention by the physician was necessary to restore health to the patient.
In 1867, Dr. Still’s father, Abraham, died at the age of 71 from pneumonia. He was very close to his father and this death was a great loss.
In 1874, Dr. Still was publicly “read out” (formally removed) from the Methodist Church. Because of his “laying on of hands” Dr. Still was accused of trying to emulate Jesus Christ and labeled an agent of the Devil. He was condemned as practicing voodoo and his practice dropped off rapidly. His brothers, embarrassed by his outspoken questioning of medical tradition, criticized his willingness to risk his livelihood by driving away patients and neglecting his family and farm in pursuit of his “crazy” ideas. Eventually, his brothers abandoned him.
When Dr. Still asked to present his ideas at Baker University, which his family had helped establish in the 1850s, school officials refused. He was socially and professionally ostracized, financially destitute and ultimately forced to move his family to Macon, Missouri in 1875.
In 1876, the seventh and last child of Dr. Still and Mary Elvira was born. Of Dr. Still’s 12 children, six were still living: Marusha (from his first marriage) and Charles, Harry, Herman, Fred - and now Blanche - from his second.
From 1875 until 1892, ostracized by his family and others, Dr. Still occasionally wandered the northeast Missouri countryside practicing osteopathy and lecturing about his new science to anyone who would listen. Mary Still sold magazine subscriptions to supplement her husband's meager earnings.
Unwelcome in Kansas, Dr. Still and his family returned to Missouri to live in Kirksville.
Dressed all in black, his trouser legs tucked into his knee-high boots, and with a bag containing a complete set of human bones often flung over his shoulder, Dr. Still was indeed the picture of eccentricity.
A knowledge of anatomy is only a dead weight if we do not know how to apply that knowledge with successful skill.
- Andrew Taylor Still, MD, DO
In Kirksville, Dr. Still gained a reputation of being a magnetic healer and gifted bonesetter. The number of his patients gradually increased. As time passed, his ideas of drugless treatments gained popularity, and people wanted to learn about this new method of treatment. Dr. Still had more patients than he could treat, so he trained his children and a few others to assist him in his practice.
Dr. Still’s unique methods of treatments were officially recognized in 1885 and his theories gave birth to modern osteopathy.
Dr. Still published four books in his lifetime. His first, published in 1897, was entitled Autobiography of Andrew Taylor Still with a History of the Discovery and Development of the Science of Osteopathy. A revised edition was re-published in 1908 after a fire damaged the original printing plates. In 1899, he published his second book, Philosophy of Osteopathy. In 1902, Dr. Still published his third book, The Philosophy and Mechanical Principles of Osteopathy, although some dispute remains over the date. Dr. Still published his fourth and final book in 1910, entitled Osteopathy Research and Practice.
Dr. Still sought to establish a new medical school that could produce physicians trained under this philosophy, prepared to compete against the orthodox, or allopathic physicians. In 1892, Dr. Still opened the American School of Osteopathy (ASO) in Kirksville, Missouri. Unlike allopathic medical schools at the time, he permitted both women and African-Americans to enroll. The first graduating class had 18 students (5 of whom were women). By 1897, the school had 280 students from across the United States (and even two from Canada). His holistic principles and practices ushered in a new era of medical care: individualized, whole-person healthcare.
The practice of bone-setting, joint and spinal manipulation dates to ancient times and has roots in most countries, particularly in traditional Asian medicine. Interestingly, while Dr. Still was developing osteopathic techniques, Daniel David Palmer in Iowa was developing chiropractic manipulation.
Chiropractic as a profession began in 1895 when Daniel David Palmer “adjusted” the spine of a deaf janitor and helped restore his hearing. Though Palmer never claimed to be the first to use manipulation for the cure of disease, he did claim to be the first to use specific contacts as short-leverage points for making more specific spinal “adjustments”. Dr. Still and DD Palmer held a public discussion (debate) on the differences between osteopathy and chiropractic. They both had differing viewpoints on structure and its relationship to function.
American School of Osteopathy (ASO)
ASO: the world's first osteopathy school
ASO’s first class included three of Dr. Still’s children and one nephew.
The school became a tremendous success. Work was begun on a new infirmary, which opened in January of 1895 (more than 30,000 osteopathic treatments were given at the infirmary that year alone). By 1897, it was necessary to add two wings that more than tripled the size of the original building. As more more than 400 people came seeking treatment every day, the Wabash Railroad increased the number of daily passenger trains to Kirksville.
Dr. Still believed osteopathic physicians needed specially-trained nurses who understood manipulation. The nursing program was a significant part of the ASO’s curriculum for several decades.
In 1894, Dr. Still founded the Journal of Osteopathy.
ASO was the first educational institution to obtain an X-ray machine west of the Mississippi. The X-ray machine’s images provided physical evidence of the benefits of osteopathic medicine.
Dr. Still was always interested in machines, and when confronted with a mechanical problem, his solution was always to come up with a better approach.
In the 1870s, he patented an improved butter churn, and years later he developed several other inventions. Some were related to the practice of osteopathy, such as the patient brace (a simple device designed to keep patients from falling off the narrow treatment table during vigorous manipulations). In 1910, he patented a smokeless furnace burner but had some trouble producing a full-sized working model.
In May of 1910, Mary Elvira passed away and Dr. Still was heartbroken.
After many enjoyable years of teaching osteopathy to hundreds of students, Dr. Still suffered a severe stroke in 1914. He lost his ability to speak; though greatly weakened, he remained active at the ASO.
He died on December 12, 1917, at the age of 89, and is buried in Forest-Llewellyn Cemetery in Kirksville, Missouri.
He was mourned by his students, as well as more than 3000 members of the healing profession (his former students).
Dr. Andrew Taylor Still (at the age of 85)
Dr. Andrew Taylor Still Obituary
In 1922, a second osteopathic school, the Andrew Taylor Still College of Osteopathy and Surgery (ATSCOS), was founded by George M. Laughlin, DO, Dr. Still’s son-in-law. It was built on the corner of Elson and Jefferson Streets, which is where the Administration Building stands today. The ASO continued under the administration of S.S. Still, DO, Dr. Still’s nephew.
In 1924, ATSCOS and the ASO merged to become the Kirksville Osteopathic College. In 1926, the school was renamed Kirksville College of Osteopathy and Surgery (KCOS). In 1971, the School again changed its name: this time to Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (KCOM).
In 1995, KCOM opened the Arizona School of Health Sciences (ASHS) in Mesa, Arizona (originally naming it Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine Southwest Center for Osteopathic Medical Education). In 2001, the name A.T. Still University (ATSU) was adopted as the umbrella for all 6 schools (on two campuses - Missouri and Arizona).
ATSU features programs in athletic training, audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and physician assistant studies.
What's in a Name?
The Still Museum
The Museum of Osteopathic Medicine in Kirksville, MO features collections of osteopathic medicine that include more than 80,000 objects, photographs, documents, and books dating from the early 1800s to the present (focused mainly on 1870-1940). The core of the collection consists of artifacts from Andrew Taylor Still's professional and private life, most of them donated by Dr. Still's daughter, Blanche Laughlin, and members of her family.
Dr. Andrew Taylor Still was an openminded free-thinker with a courageous and compassionate heart.
It was through his steadfast tenacity, based upon an enduring spiritual life and trust in God that he found the motivation to publicly present osteopathy in the face of overwhelming personal tragedy, professional opposition, and public humiliation.
In 2013, Dr. Still was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians; a bronze bust of his likeness was erected in the Missouri State Capitol.
In 1953, the Kirksville College of Osteopathy and Surgery published the four osteopathic tenets in the Journal of Osteopathy. These tenets are still in use today:
1. The body is a unit.
2. The body possesses self-regulatory mechanisms.
3. Structure and function are reciprocally interrelated.
4. Rational therapy is based upon an understanding of body unity, self-regulatory mechanisms, and the interrelationship of structure and function.
One key concept that osteopathic medical students learn is that structure influences function. Thus, if there is a problem in one part of the body’s structure, function in that area, and possibly in other areas, may be affected.
Another integral tenet of osteopathic medicine is the body’s innate ability to heal itself. Many of osteopathic medicine’s manipulative techniques are aimed at reducing or eliminating the impediments to proper structure and function so the self-healing mechanism can assume its role in restoring a person to health.
DOs are trained to look at the whole person from their first days of medical school, which means they see each person as more than just a collection of organ systems and body parts that may become injured or diseased. This holistic approach to patient care means that osteopathic medical students learn how to integrate the patient into the healthcare process as a partner.
They are trained to communicate with people from diverse backgrounds, and they get the opportunity to practice these skills in their classrooms and learning laboratories, frequently with standardized and simulated patients.
Osteopathic medicine emphasizes helping each person achieve a high level of wellness by focusing on health promotion and disease prevention.
During most of the 1900’s, osteopathic medicine faced the same skepticism as homeopathy and other natural healthcare approaches. Doctors of Osteopathy struggled to gain the same practice rights as M.D.s in every state. In 1903, Michigan became the earliest state to pass unlimited practice rights for osteopathic physicians. In 1951, the U.S. Congress amended the Social Security Act, so that the term “physician” would include osteopathic physicians.
It was not until 1989, when Nebraska passed legislation, that all 50 states allowed DOs to practice with the same unrestricted license as MDs. Today DOs provide comprehensive medical care to patients in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and have unlimited practice rights in more than 65 countries. Currently, there are more than 137,000 DOs practicing in the United States in a wide range of medical specialties including surgery, anesthesiology, sports medicine, geriatrics, and emergency medicine.
Today there are currently 34 osteopathic medical schools in the United States that train osteopathic physicians. The Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences-College of Osteopathic Medicine (KCUMB-COM) is the largest medical school in Missouri and one of the largest in the Midwest. The A.T. Still University-Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (ATSU-KCOM) remains the oldest of the osteopathic medical schools.
With their emphasis on primary care, preventive medicine, and a willingness to practice in the most under-served areas of the country, the osteopathic profession is expected to continue to grow over the next generation. Nearly one in five medical students in the United States is attending an osteopathic medical school. Thus, it is estimated that 20% of all physicians will be DOs by 2020.
DOs also serve as healthcare policy leaders at the local, state, and national levels. In addition, an increasing emphasis on biomedical research at several of the osteopathic colleges has expanded opportunities for DOs interested in pursuing careers in medical research. Since 1989, the profession has continued to grow at great rates.
It should be underscored that worldwide the osteopathic profession has evolved into two branches: non-physician manual medicine osteopaths (drugless), and full-scope of medical practice osteopathic physicians (DOs).
These groups are so distinct that in practice they function as separate professions.
The regulation of non-physician manual medicine osteopaths varies greatly between jurisdictions. In the UK, Australia, and New Zealand, the non-physician manual medicine osteopaths are regulated by statute and practice requires registration with the relevant regulatory authority.
The Osteopathic International Alliance has a country guide with details of registration and practice rights and the International Osteopathic Association has a list of all accredited osteopathic colleges.
Osteopathy Today - Worldwide
A Bone to Pick?
Historically, osteopaths believed that the body was self-healing, and Dr. Still frequently promoted the view that the body contained its own pharmacy, capable of producing all substances necessary for its own healing (well before our current knowledge of endorphins, immunomodulation, etc.). However, osteopathy as a branch of medical practice (in the US) ultimately did adopt the use of external pharmaceuticals, including many anti-drugs such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, etc. In fact, most osteopathic doctors today routinely prescribe pharmaceuticals as their primary method of therapy. Many licensed Doctors of Osteopathy (DOs) no longer perform osteopathic manipulations in their practice. (Fortunately, many still do.)
Interestingly, even though osteopathy has in many ways come to mirror allopathic medicine (in part to gain acceptance), it has nevertheless suffered a prolonged perception of being pseudo-scientific.
Today, osteopathic schools are essentially allopathic schools with an additional 400 hours of practical anatomy in the form of osteopathic manipulation training.
• Christensen, Lawrence O., William E. Foley, Gary R. Kremer, and Kenneth H. Winn, eds. Dictionary of Missouri Biography. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. pp. 721-723.
[REF F508 D561]
• Hulburt, Ray G. A. T. Still, Founder of Osteopathy. v. 19, no. 1 (October 1924), pp. 25-35.
• International Osteopathic Association (IOA), based in North York, Ontario, Canada, is an international professional association; with members across North America, Latin America, Africa, Caribbean, Europe, Asia & Australia, that promotes the highest standards of ethics and patient care in European style osteopathy, contributing to the health and well-being of millions of osteopathy patients.
• Lewis, John Robert, A.T. Still: From the Dry Bone to the Living Man: Dry Bone Press, 2012.
• Paulus, Steve, DO. Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917): A Life Chronology of the First Osteopath.
• Still, A. T. (Andrew Taylor), 1828-1917 Autobiography of Andrew T. Still, with a history of the discovery and development of the science of osteopathy, together with an account of the founding of the American School of Osteopathy.
• Still, Andrew, Taylor. Philosophy of Osteopathy. 1902.
• Still, Andrew Taylor. The Philosophy and Mechanical Principles of Osteopathy.
• Still, Andrew Taylor. Osteopathy Research and Practice.
• Still, Charles E., Jr. Frontier Doctor, Medical Pioneer: The Life and Times of A. T. Still and His Family. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1991.
• Trowbridge, Carol. Andrew Taylor Still: 1828-1917. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1991.
• Wagner, Peter (2011-04-11). History of Osteopathy.
• Walter, Georgia Warner. The First School of Osteopathic Medicine. Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1992.
• Walter, Georgia Warner. Osteopathic Medicine: Past and Present. Kirksville, MO: Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine, 1993.