After three of Andrew Taylor Still’s children died of spinal meningitis in 1864, the midwestern healer turned against mainstream medicine. Eschewing drugs and surgery, Still gravitated toward the wellness offerings of his era, dabbling in magnetic healing and hydrotherapy, before outlining a philosophy of his own. Drawing from the teachings of his Methodist-preacher father and his own experiences farming on the frontier, Still argued that the body was a self-healing machine. When physical, psychological, and spiritual afflictions interfered, a doctor’s job was to gently return a patient to homeostasis, usually through hands-on manipulation of the spine. Still called this new discipline osteopathy.
While allopathic, or medical, doctors can trace their lineage back to Hippocrates and ancient Greece, osteopathy is a uniquely American tradition, comparable to jazz, says Wolfgang Gilliar, the dean of osteopathic medicine at Touro University, in Nevada.