Remarkable Women in Osteopathy

As someone who once gave a presentation on women in osteopathy, I was fascinated to see the new documentary “The Feminine Touch”, made by WEDU PBS in the US.

It’s currently available to view free online, here’s the link.

I should point out that osteopathy in the US is different to osteopathy in the UK and other countries: DOs, Doctors of Osteopathy in the US are equivalent to MDs, whereas in the UK osteopaths are complementary medical practitioners, albeit with a high standard of medical training. However, the origin of these two strands of osteopathy is the same.

Andrew Taylor Still, the originator of osteopathy, opened the American School of Osteopathy in 1892. Being clearly inspired by several indomitable women in his life – his grandmother and mother were impressive frontierswomen in the American mid-west – he welcomed women students on an equal basis to the male students.

It was unusual for medical schools to accept women students at this time. Johns Hopkins Medical School did so, but didn’t open until the following year, 1893.

The ASO prospectus stated:

“Women are admitted on the same terms as men. It is the policy of the school that there shall be no distinction as to sex, and that all shall have the same opportunities, and be held to the same requirements. They pursue the same studies, attend the same lectures, are subject to the same rules, and pass the same examinations.”

The five women in the first graduating class of the ASO in 1894 included Nettie Bolles. She was so highly valued by Still that he appointed her the school’s anatomy lecturer. She was the first editor of The Journal of Osteopathy, the first vice-president of the American Osteopathic Association and co-founder of The Osteopathic Women’s National Association. (Three women, in fact, founded the AOA: Cornelia Walker, Minnie Potter and Irene Harwood).

Nettie Bolles. Remarkable women in osteopathy

Jeanette (Nettie) Bolles

She and her husband set up their own College of Osteopathy in Denver (Colorado was the first state to give women the vote). She faced a lot of opposition, as Still had. She overcame this opposition by becoming a valued pillar of her local community; she campaigned for children’s clinics in Colorado and improved sanitation and public health. She also gained a master’s degree from the University of Colorado.

Blanche Still (AT’s daughter) and Josephine L Peirce were other notable osteopaths at that time. Louisa M Burns and Ann Perry were early pioneers of osteopathic research.

The film points out the important place of many women osteopaths in the US, including Barbara Ross-Lee DO, the first African-American woman to be appointed dean of a medical school.

Several women have been significant in the development of cranial osteopathy: Charlotte Weaver, Ann L Wales and the late Viola M Frymann. Currently, in the UK we have Liz Hayden and Sue Turner.

If you’re an osteopath or have an interest in osteopathy, I’m sure you’ll be able to suggest people that I have failed to mention. I hope you enjoy the film …