The First Osteopathic School

Dr. Still chose Baker University in Baldwin, Kansas, a college which he and his brothers helped found, as the place he wanted to first explain his theory of osteopathy. But he was refused permission because his thoughts did not conform to the accepted medical practice of the day. He was called a "quack" and rejected by his friends and neighbours. Ostracised in Kansas, he returned to Missouri where he became an itinerate doctor. He was legally entered on the roll of Physicians and Surgeons of Macon County, Missouri in the year 1874. For the next eighteen years the state of Missouri became the testing ground for osteopathy. As Dr. Still travelled from town to town, he had success after success. Many people who had not been helped by orthodox medicine were helped or cured by Dr. Still. So many miraculous cures were effected that patients began seeking him out. One instance is recorded in Booth's History of Osteopathy:

At Nevada City, Missouri, people came 150 miles in covered wagons and came with tents and on the train from far and near. We had to go out from the square where there were side streets. They filled the side streets with wagons and tents and stayed as long as we would stay. . . Those passing would ask: "Is this a funeral?" "Oh no, it's Dr. Still, the bone-setter in town".

As the fame of the "lightning bone-setter," as he was then called, grew, he received strong opposition from the regular physicians in the state and others who did not understand his methods. He was ridiculed and labeled a "crank," "faker" and "charlatan." In spite of the opposition he continued to practice and perfect osteopathy. Soon he had more patients that he could manage. first_osteopath_school.gif (25599 bytes)

Requiring assistance and having had numerous requests to impart his knowledge, he decided to start a school. He built a small frame building (16x22 feet) and opened the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Missouri. (The present name is the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine).

The first charter was granted on May 10, 1892, under the Missouri law governing scientific institutions. A new charter was issued in 1894 under the Missouri law regulating educational institutions. Article III of that charter states:

The object of this corporation is to establish a College of Osteopathy, the design of which is to improve our present system of surgery, obstetrics and treatment of disease generally, and place the same on a more rational and scientific basis, and to impart information to the medical profession, and to grant and confer such honors and degrees as are usually granted and conferred by reputable medical colleges.

By the authority of the school's charter an M.D. degree could have been awarded its graduates. But Dr. Still wanted his degree to be different, just as osteopathy was different from traditional medicine. He chose the new D.O. degree or Diplomate in Osteopathy.

first_osteopath_class.gif (27126 bytes)The first school had a faculty of two: Dr. Still and Dr. William Smith, a Scotsman who was a graduate of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Twenty-one students were enrolled including three of Still's sons and one daughter. Always a liberal, Dr. Still opened the doors of his new school to both negroes and women. There were five women in the first class.

In less than five years, the enrollment had passed five hundred and the faculty numbered fifteen. The small frame building had been replaced by a four-storey brick structure, containing 30,000 square feet and costing $80,000. The new building contained the latest in medical equipment, including an x-ray machine, which was the second one west of the Missouri River.

In 1898, the course of instruction was two years, divided into four terms of five months. Tuition was $500 for the two-year course. A comprehensive curriculum was developed, comparable to other medical schools of its day, with two exceptions: anatomy was taught more thoroughly than in most institutions and a course in osteopathic theory and practice was taught. It was always a medical school, but with a philosophy intended to improve medicine.

Although sixty-four years of age when he founded the college, Dr. Still's dynamic personality was the heart of the institution in its early days. He was eccentric and unorthodox, not only in thinking but in behaviour and dress. His students loved him and called him "Pap Still." His speech was full of allegories and couched in Biblical language. Although physically strong, he usually carried a long staff which seemed to be symbolic of the shepherd guiding his flock.

He published his Autobiography in 1897, the philosophy of Osteopathy in 1899, The Philosophy and Mechanical Principles of Osteopathy in 1902, and Osteopathic Research and practice in 1910. During his later years, he was fondly referred to as "The Old Doctor." He died December 12, 1917, at the age of eighty-nine, but his philosophy and his college went on to new dimensions.

As George V. Webster said in his book, Sage Sayings of Still: "His greatness lay chiefly in his independence of thought and action, and his determination to cultivate and apply such talent as he possessed to the most worthy end".

Further reading: -

Origins of Osteopathy

A.T.Still: The Doctor

The Discovery of Osteopathy

Osteopathic Roots

The First Osteopathic School