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  • Writer's pictureJohn K Maltby II, D.C.

A Short History of Chiropractic

D.D. Palmer

On September 18, 1895, Chiropractic began. That is, the first adjustment was given by Dr. Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer, and was performed on one Harvey Lillard. This date marks the beginning of the profession as a distinct form of health care. However, some of the earliest healers in history understood the relationship between health and the condition of the spine.

Hippocrates, who is considered the “Father of Modern Medicine,” knew the importance of the spine.

“Look well to the spine for the cause of disease.”

- Hippocrates

Innovative in scientific discovery, Thomas Edison also saw the future of healing and alternative health care.

“The doctor of the future will give no medicine but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.”

- Thomas Edison

These are only two examples of the importance and role the spine has played in health care for the majority of human history.

As I stated at the beginning it was on that fateful day of September 18, 1895 that the distinct profession of Chiropractic was born.

D.D. Palmer was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1845. He moved to the United States when he was 20 years old. After the Civil War, he spent his time teaching, raising bees, and selling sweet raspberries in the Iowa and Illinois river towns up and down the Mississippi River. By the time Palmer made the first adjustment he was a practicing magnetic healer with his office in the Ryan block in Davenport Iowa. The janitor of the building, Harvey Lillard, had been deaf for 17 years. Palmer noticed this when Lillard did not notice the racket being made by a passing wagon on the street. Palmer inquired as to the cause of Lillard’s deafness and was informed that when Lillard was exerting himself in a cramped, stooping position, he felt something give way in his back and immediately became deaf. Upon examination, Palmer noticed that vertebra was “racked” from its normal position. Reasoning that if that vertebra was replaced, the man’s hearing should be restored, Palmer persuaded Lillard to allow him to “rack” the vertebrae back into position. Palmer “racked” Lillard’s vertebra into position by using the spinous process, and Lillard could hear again.

Word of Palmer’s success in “curing” deafness traveled fast, and people who were deaf began to show up in his office. While having success with people and their deafness, Palmer began to notice that many other conditions were benefiting from the same treatment. Soon, people with an array of problems were coming to see Dr. D.D. Palmer.

Palmer soon found that most conditions responded well to the adjustments he performed. Since that first step (September 18, 1895), this service to humanity has undergone a constant evolution in its development as an Art, its establishment as a Philosophy of the functioning of life’s forces in man, and as a proven Science in the removal of that cause of disease.

The name of this distinct healing art, Chiropractic, came to be with the help of Reverend Samuel Weed. Palmer worked with the Reverend and they combined two Greek words, “cheir” (meaning hand) and “pratikos” (meaning practice), or Chiropractic, “done by hand.” With this, the profession was born and now had a name.

In 1898, Palmer accepted his first students into the Palmer School of Chiropractic. Under Palmer’s care at his school and clinic, fevers broke, pain ceased, infections healed, vision improved, stomach aches cleared up, and many other ailments improved, without the use of any drugs. This being new to Palmer, as well as everyone else, he was often surprised by the results. This caused him to continue studying anatomy and physiology in an attempt to understand the key component to the connection between the spine and health. With his research and cases, he realized that spinal adjustments used to correct vertebral misalignments, or subluxation, was eliminating nerve interference that caused the patients’ complaints.

While Palmer had much success in his practice, these early years of the profession were marked with attacks from the medical profession. Palmer continued through these attacks, even going to jail and adjusting his patients (and jailor) in his cell while locked up. Up until the 1970’s, Palmer and many other chiropractors where being jailed for practicing medicine without a license. Palmer argued, as well as his son after him, Bartlett Joshua (B.J.) Palmer, that this was a new distinct profession that provided a unique service and therefore was not practicing medicine.

Palmer fought for the profession until the day he died at the age of 68 in Los Angeles. He wrote two books, The Science of Chiropractic in 1906 and The Chiropractors Adjuster in 1913.

Palmer is credited as being the founder of Chiropractic, and his son B.J. is the developer. B.J. graduated from the Palmer school in 1902. He married his wife and fellow graduate Mabel. For 60 years B.J. developed the profession into one of the leading alternative health care systems in the world.

B.J. continued to grow the school and expand the clinic beyond his father’s wildest dreams. With many varied interests, he was a genius in his own right. We still see many of his inventions today even if we do not realize it. Ever eat from a plate that has divisions in it so your food does not touch? He also owed several radio stations, starting with the first radio station west of the Mississippi WOC (Wonder of Chiropractic), and then WHO (With Hands Only). President Ronald Reagan had one of his first jobs working for B.J. as a sportscaster at WHO. B.J. was a world traveler and a prolific writer; he always drew a large audience where ever he spoke concerning Chiropractic.

The practice of Chiropractic continued to be met with significant hostility from the medical community, as it was an unfamiliar approach to health care. In response, B.J. started the International Chiropractor Association (ICA) to raise money to pay for lawyers to protect our profession’s right to practice. The ICA is still in operation to this day. Chiropractic is licensed as a distinct healthcare profession in the United States, and many other countries all over the world, with 35 Chiropractic colleges internationally.

B.J. continued to develop the profession as a separate science, art, and philosophy throughout his life. Through his leadership and foresight, Chiropractic was the first profession to widely use Wilhelm Roetgen’s invention, the X-ray machine.

For over 100 years, the Chiropractic profession has had many leaders and movements, but the principles that have been developed by D.D. and B.J. Palmer are still the same. The body is a self-healing organism, with a nervous system that controls and coordinates every organ and tissue of the body. The relationship between the spine and the nervous system is a predictor for the state of health. Find the interference, correct it, and let the body do the rest.

The growing acceptance of Chiropractic is due to the continuing abundance of scientific research, which all started with B.J., that points to the positive effect the specific spinal adjustment has on correcting the vertebral subluxation of the spine.

To sum up, I leave you with B.J. Palmer, D.C., Ph.C.’s definition of Chiropractic.

“Chiropractic is a philosophy, science and art of things natural; a system of adjusting the segments of the spinal column by hand only, for the correction of the cause of dis-ease.”

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