While many of its foundational, vitalistic principles date back to ancient Greece and Egypt, the birth of chiropractic took place relatively recently at the end of the 19th century.
For much of its history – especially early on – chiropractic was officially founded and evolved with the help of two pioneering professionals: Daniel David Palmer and Bartlett Joshua Palmer. This father-son team played a pivotal role in the development of chiropractic theory and practice, contributing enormously to its current status as a widely recognized, increasingly valued approach to natural healthcare.
The Birth of Chiropractic
The birth of chiropractic can be traced back to one particularly significant day in 1895. On September 18, Harvey Lillard – the janitor for the building where Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer worked as a magnetic healer – was describing the day he lost his hearing 17 years earlier. He told Palmer that while he was bent over in a cramped space, he suddenly felt his neck “pop.” And not long after, he said, his hearing completely disappeared.
Convinced that the two events were linked, D.D. Palmer asked if he could examine Harvey Lillard’s spine. He noticed a bump on the back of Lillard’s neck, and after moving it back toward normal alignment, Lillard’s hearing was immediately restored.
This moment sparked D.D. Palmer’s lifelong passion for chiropractic.
The Philosophy of Chiropractic
After adjusting Harvey Lillard in 1895, D.D. Palmer became fascinated with the role the spine plays in the overall function and health of the body. He began performing more and more adjustments, and uncovering evidence that the nervous system, particularly the alignment of the bones of the spine, affects the body’s ability to recover from illness.
D.D. Palmer believed that the body possesses an innate intelligence, which the ancient Greeks referred to as “vital force.” This innate intelligence, he theorized, depended in part on a healthy functioning nervous system which could become interrupted by misalignments in the spine called subluxations. By adjusting the subluxation, Palmer was able to help the body recover its inherent ability to remain healthy and ward off illness. This discovery by D.D. Palmer led to one of the founding principles of chiropractic education and practice – that effective chiropractic adjustments help the body restore its inborn capacity to heal itself.
The First School of Chiropractic
D.D. Palmer founded the Palmer School and Cure in 1887. This first chiropractic college produced a small but notable graduating class of highly skilled professionals. Among them was another important figure in chiropractic history: B. J. Palmer, Daniel David’s son.
B.J. Palmer Continues his Father’s Chiropractic Legacy
B.J. Palmer soon found that he shared his father’s passion for chiropractic. He graduated from the Palmer School and eventually replaced his father as head of the college in 1906. Under his leadership, the field of chiropractic continued to garner respect and attract new prospective practitioners. Enrollment at the Palmer School boomed to 1,000 students by the 1920s.
B.J. Palmer also believed in incorporating the latest technology into the field of chiropractic. He advocated for the use of X-rays in 1910 and temperature instrumentation in 1924 to improve diagnostic methods. And throughout his chiropractic career, B.J. pushed for the wider acceptance of chiropractic in the community at large, ultimately helping to establish the Universal Chiropractic Association.
Students embarking on their chiropractic careers today will discover that much of the education and foundational principles they learn was developed by this visionary father-son team. The Palmer legacy lives on in today’s leading chiropractic colleges all around the world.
Interested in learning more about studying to become a Doctor of Chiropractic? Visit Sherman College of Chiropractic to get started.