An historic commitment to diversity


“I chose the side of freedom. I could not do otherwise, for no man can have delegated to him by statute a just right to any man’s liberty, either on account of race or color. With these truths before me I entered all combats for the abolition of slavery at home and abroad…”[i]

By Carl J. Denbow, Ph.D.*

In each age some men and women take courageous stands that literally place their lives on the line for the principles in which they believe. Such a man was Andrew Taylor Still, the founder of the osteopathic profession.

In the 1850s when the issue of slavery was tearing the nation apart[ii], Still became an outspoken foe of the “peculiar institution” – as the inhuman bondage of persons of African lineage was sometimes euphemistically called in those days.

When war broke out, he joined the Union forces and served first as a captain in the 18th Kansas Militia and later as major in the 21st Kansas Militia. His military record included both medical duties as regimental surgeon (listed officially as “hospital steward”) and line responsibilities. In one battle, he recounts two minnie-balls passed through his clothing – just missing his skin. In referring to this incident years later, he said, “Had the rebels known how close they were shooting at Osteopathy, perhaps they would not have been so careless.”

Not only did this eccentric but brilliant doctor risk life and limb to fight slavery, but he also risked his reputation to advance another unpopular cause. Throughout his writings he proclaimed the equality of women and championed their cause both within the family and within the fledgling osteopathic profession.

Much of Still’s writing on female equality was tinged with deep sarcasm. He once said for instance, “To me [women] have proven that if man is the head of the family, his claim to superiority must be in the strength of his muscle and not in the brain.”[iii]

On another occasion, he said, “From a child I have known the goodness and wisdom of the mother part of our race; a desire to relieve pain and sickness is certainly as natural as for her to breathe. … I have proven myself the perfection of Nature’s work and that man has with him all the qualities for ease and comfort, and when disease makes them uncomfortable, he or she who is familiar with the machinery of life can give them ease and comfort, and restore the person to good health. In the case of the ladies, they have proven their ability to adjust the human body. She gets her pay and she is proud of her diploma, proud of her position and proud that she is far above a gossiping nuisance.”[iv]

As a result of his strong convictions, the profession’s first school – the American School of Osteopathy, which Still founded in Kirksville, Mo., in 1892 – was from its beginning open to all qualified applicants without regard to race or gender. It’s a legacy of diversity that’s an important keystone of your osteopathic heritage, and one that we must be ever vigilant to maintain.

[i] Still, Andrew Taylor, Autobiography of Andrew T. Still, (Published by the Author: Kirksville, Mo., 1997), p. 65

[ii] Ibid., p. 86

[iii] Ibid., p. 156

[iv] “Dr. A.T. Still’s Department,” Journal of Osteopathy, December 1898, as reprinted in Early Osteopathy in Words of A.T. Still (Kirksville, Mo.: The Thomas Jefferson University Press), pp. 192-93.

* This article was originally published in the Fall 1995 issue of The Ohio D.O. Dr. Denbow is director emeritus of communications at the Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine.

Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, founder of Osteopathic Medicine

Born in 1828, Andrew Taylor Still was a lifelong foe of slavery and racial discrimination. He served as a surgeon in the Union Army during the Civil War.

In 1874, Dr. Still first enunciated the osteopathic approach to health care. Together with William Smith, M.D., he established the American School of Osteopathy in Kirksville, Mo., in 1892. Dr. Still served as the school’s first president.

An outspoken advocate of women’s rights, Dr. Still actively sought female students for the American School of Osteopathy. In the decade prior to his death in 1917, female enrollment peaked at 46 percent. At the time, no other co-educational medical school in the nation had a higher percentage of female students.