A. T. Still

A. T. Still

Richard A. Feely, DO, FAADEP, FAAO, FCA, FAAMA

Andrew Taylor Still was a forward thinking man of his age, the age of mechanics, engineering and industrialization. During his lifetime he personified many attributes such as inquisitiveness, tenaciousness, and independent thought based on facts and not doctrines. He possessed keen observation, making more accurate comparisons, noting finer degrees of differentiation, finding new applications for established facts, formatting more logical theories, noting previously unrecorded relationships of form and force. Men like this have been the pathfinders of progress throughout all of history. Dr. Still said, “Nature knows perfectly your powers, plans and purposes.” Nature/God has known them from the beginning but it is only as man understands her secrets, her roles of action that he is able to walk intelligently by her side.

Dr. Andrew Taylor Still trained in medical thought of his day but from the books of men he turned to the book of nature to learn first hand something about organized structure and impaired function, infection and immunity, disease and death. The reward of the concentration of his attention in his field made him confident in nature’s ultimate authority. The interdependence on structure and function was clearly revealed to him. From that new concept, this osteopathic school of medicine was founded.

Dr. Still lived in a period that was the beginning that many termed the mechanical age. He applied mechanical concepts to the functioning of the organic life of the body. He repeatedly tested and tried his theory in the presence of disorder and disease and found the clinical evidence to give him confidence for further elaboration and application.

The whole concept did not come to him all at once, full fledged in his conscienceless but in fragments of truth which he pieced together until the full force and significance of the breath and application became evident. At that moment of contemplation, as Dr. Still said, he was struck by “the ram’s head of reason”. Hence, in The American Academy of Osteopathy’s logo, the ram’s head of reason is prominently displayed on their logo. The American Academy of Osteopathy is a recognized professional society within the osteopathic profession that is a primary specialty of osteopathic manipulative medicine. With Dr. Still, once the vision of truth grips him, it became a permanent possession. It activated his life. Family, friends, ridicule, persecution, social and professional ostracism could not deter him once the vision was clarified on that June day in 1874.

From then onward, his life had but one guiding purpose, to substantiate and develop the therapeutic principles that he had discovered. He majored in human anatomy and physiology, studying the skeletons of Indians and Indian cadavers and bodies of animals and the living forms of man and women that were examined with the closest observation of detail for form and function. The sick and suffering whom he cared for were his clinical material. He tested and recorded these observations and drew his own conclusions. The apparent miraculous results that attended the work of the “old doctor” can be explained no other way than his skillful technique in adjustment of part to part and fluid tension to fluid tension throughout all parts of the body. By means of a sensory discrimination, he determined the key lesions that controlled the abnormal condition. Dr. Still was constantly trying to prove his tactile sense. Even during conversation with others, his fingertips were searching out the details of whatever came within his easy grasp.

The ability to visualize the structure and its entirety in all the connected and related parts in this Dr. Still excelled. To visualize the point within the whole became a preliminary to action in any given premise from a sculptor to an architect to a physician. His concept embraced the physical, the chemical, the psychic and vital factors involved in any given condition. A.T. Still said ” I knew I had the truth and that the truth was immortal and that some day the principles of osteopathy would be haled with gladness throughout the earth. The principles are in harmony with the great laws of God as seen in Nature. Osteopathy deals with the body as perfect machine which if kept in proper adjustment, nourished and care for will run smoothly until a ripe and useful old age. As long as the human machine is in order, like a locomotive or any other mechanical product, it will perform the function that it should. When every part of the machine is properly adjusted and in perfect harmony, health will hold dominion over the human organism by laws as natural and as immutable as the laws of gravity”.

“Every living organism has within it the power to manufacture and prepare all chemical and forces needed to build and rebuild itself. No material other than nutritious food taken into the system in proper quantity and quality can be introduced from the outside without detriment. A proper adjustment of the body framework and self structure of mans anatomical mechanism means good digestion, nutrition, circulation, health and happiness. Osteopathy is not a theory but a demonstrated fact.”

Dr. Stills beginning was humble. He was born in a cradle of great men, Virginia. His father was a farmer/minister and took up the work of the clergy in the frontier of Tennessee and later in northeast Missouri. Opportunities were few, but they were improved. Books were not plentiful but they were studied. The book of nature was ever open before him and his mind penetrated to the understanding. He studied medicine at the Kansas City school of Physicians & Surgeons and practiced in and around Balwin, Kansas but he did not permit the authority of men to prejudice him against the authority of nature’s law. Satisfaction was not forthcoming in the application of theories he had been taught and he was determined upon independent research to find the truth. His osteopathic experience was to discover that he could relieve his own headaches by relaxing cervical tension upon his neck supported in a swing. This childhood experience had impressed him and was frequently repeated. Reason was his guide, truth was his goal. Of this period, he said “I first found the tracks of God in the snow of time, and I followed them”. The investigation led to theories, theories to their application, application to results.

It was not until June 1874 when he was nearly 46 years of age that there came the first clear vision of truth, that structures determines function, that man is a mechanism and disease may be explained by the mechanical exhume of cause and effect. The announcement of his ideas brought diversion and divorced relationships. Poverty trailed in the wake. It was back to Missouri as an itinerant doctor. But he clung to his ” pearl of great price” the discovery that he made. His administrations brought health to his patients but meager pecuniary awards. Recognition came slowly but with permanence. Then in time, more patient than he was physically able to care for came. His sons were taught the principles of his practice and enlisted as assistance. Various inducements were made for Dr. Still to leave the little Missouri village for the most prosperous centers. But his loyalty to Kirksville, Missouri, the place where recognition had been achieved was as staunch as his loyalty to truth. A characteristic of Dr. Still was his generosity. He was generous of his time, his talent as a philosopher, a physician and as a teacher. In teaching others the truth, he had discovered they were formulated into a distinct system of therapy that constituted the foundation of the first osteopathic school.

Genius has a way of marking her men so that they can not be disguised. From the conventionality of dress, he cared nothing, even used to glory in some of his little peculiarities of make-up. Yet always through his odd or plain attire, the strength of his personality beamed. Dr. Still can safely be counted on as one of the great men who have illuminated the history of the healing arts.


Page Modified May 15, 2011

Your Partner in Osteopathic Wellness Care