World’s First Woman Osteopath: Struggles and Success

Rohan Mathew

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As an aspiring osteopath, I was curious to find out the obstacles and success the first female osteopath went through. Osteopathic medicine is all about the belief that the body has the wonderful ability to heal itself through physical manipulation of muscle tissues and bones from the practitioner. Osteopathy is a way of detecting, treating and preventing health problems by moving, stretching and massaging the person’s body as a whole. The first woman to sustain a career as an osteopath was Jeanette H. Bolles. She was born in the 1860’s in Kansas. Her story is remarkable as to why she became interested in osteopathy.

What sparked her interest was after she watched the founder of Osteopathy, Andrew Taylor Still, removed a bullet from her father and doctor him back to health, and when she watched her mother’s paralysis improve with Stills’ treatments. After witnessing Still’s new method of treatment, she was inspired to attend the school which she was preparing to open. She looked for a scholarship funding to finance her studies as being an Osteopath was quite expensive at those times. Still was a progressive man and welcomed her, the same as any man, to the first class of the American School of osteopathy. 

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She pursued a career in osteopathy and graduated from the American School of Osteopathy in 1894. There were 3 female graduates in the ASO, but Bolles was the only one to continue and accomplish a long-standing career. After graduation, Andrew Taylor Still valued her highly, and he employed her as a professor of Anatomy at the American School of Osteopathy, making her the first female faculty member at an osteopathic college. Then she became the first publisher and editor of the Journal of Osteopathy. In 1896, she became the first osteopath in the States and founded the Western Institute for Osteopathy. In 1897 she became the first vice president of the American Association for the Advancement of Osteopathy. She then was the founding president of the Associated Colleges of Osteopathy in 1898. She was the first osteopath to serve on the Colorado Board of Medical Examiners. She was the founding member of the Osteopathic Women National Association and served 3 times as president. Bolles was honored with the prestigious AOA distinguished Service Certificate for “Pioneering in Osteopathy as a Profession for Women” in 1925. 

She faced a lot of opposition, as Still has, due to the male driven society at that time and majority of doctors being male. She overcame this by becoming a valued pillar of her local community. After this from University of Colorado she received her master’s degree as well. This alternative form of medicine gained popularity, and by 1900 there were 16 osteopathic schools in America. By 1939, 39 states had passed laws licensing osteopaths. 

Jenette Bolles has been an inspiration to multitudes of women who have followed in her footsteps, as a female physician, teacher, author, and leader in the osteopathic medical profession. As osteopathic medicine grew, there was a larger interest from women, and by 1923 half of the graduates were women. Through the inspiration and work of Bolles, osteopathic medical schools have empowered women to practice medicine and become socially and financially independent. Currently, in the United States, 41% of osteopathic physicians are women.

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Women patients actually prefer a women physician that listens and considers the entire patient as a part of the diagnosis, and treatment and that focuses on the holistic aspect of disease. It is more valuable to female patients to have a female physician, as they feel they can identify with them, will actively listen and will avoid toxic and unproven treatment. Without the efforts and triumphs of women like Jeanette H. Bolles, females in the profession of osteopathy would not have expanded and grown as quickly as it did.

Isn’t it an inspiring story? 

So, if you are also interested to study an Osteopathic degree then there are plenty of scholarships available in today’s age to finance your studies for free in top medical colleges of times.