Reflecting on 125 Years of Chiropractic History

Chiropractic celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, a milestone that warrants reflection. With that, ACA Blogs caught up with ACA member Patrick Montgomery, DC, MS, FASA, FICC, a professor of chiropractic history who is also the immediate past president of the Association for the History of Chiropractic, to ask what he believes some of the profession’s most significant achievements have been and what today’s doctors of chiropractic should know about their past so they can continue building a foundation for future success.

What two or three achievements do you believe best illustrate how far chiropractic has come as a profession?

The profession has accomplished so much over a relatively short time. Narrowing it down to two to three achievements is difficult, but I believe the following are some of the top achievements:

The licensing of chiropractic is all 50 U.S. states. The first state to pass a licensing law was Kansas, although the first state to issue a license from a chiropractic examining board was North Dakota.  The last state to achieve this status was Louisiana in 1974—61 years later!

The establishment in 1963 of a successful National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE). The first test was offered in 1965. This helped to achieve equal and fair testing for licensing, no matter which state was issuing a license to practice. Prior to that, licenses were awarded using a wide variety of qualifications, some of which would now be considered unethical.

The federal recognition of the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) as the sole authority for accrediting chiropractic educational institutions. This opened the door for federally backed student loans, allowing educational institutions the ability to hire qualified faculty and the ability to pay them competitive salaries.

The successful conclusion of the Wilk vs. AMA legal action. This legal decision halted the assault on the integrity and validity of chiropractors and chiropractic care. There are still hurdles to climb, but this landmark decision helped to put to an end to the illegal boycott and slandering of doctors of chiropractic (DCs). (Pictured below, from left, are lead plaintiff in the Wilk trial, Dr. Chester Wilk, and his attorney George McAndrews.)

Besides ending the illegal boycott against the chiropractic profession, what else did the Wilk trial change?   

It was not until the Wilk trial that greater cooperation between the other health fields and chiropractic was allowed. This eventually opened the door for the ability of DCs to serve patients in the VA system and gradually into other health systems. One great achievement was the inclusion of chiropractors in the Cancer Treatment Centers of America and other hospitals.

This inclusion of chiropractic physicians and greater access to patients within the medical system was the dream of a good portion of the profession. It did not seem possible in the days of the Committee on Quackery (1963-1987). Now, many students entering our schools look toward working in those facilities as well as working with professional athletes. At one time, the National Football League (NFL) banned its players from even seeing chiropractors, much less having one on a team’s medical staff. It’s thanks to early pioneers such as Drs. Stephan Press, Tom Hyde and many others, that all NFL and Major League Baseball teams have DCs on their staff, and there is a large contingent of chiropractors who help athletes competing in the Olympics as well as college and high school athletic programs.

What areas do you believe the profession needs to build on to prepare itself for the next 125 years?

Young membership in ACA is crucial. A couple of years ago, ACA recognized the need to push the importance of increasing membership among young doctors. Many members of the leadership realized that all the great advances that have been accomplished by the veterans may vanish unless younger DCs get involved to continue to improve, expand and grow the chiropractic profession.

Another area to build on is upgrading the status of diplomates of the various sub-specialties and promote them to the public and integrate them with other health professions. During the times before the Wilk trial, the chiropractic profession had to create its own specialty organizations. These organizations established extra training programs, testing procedures and promoted these new specialists as having extra skills to help those patients that needed that something extra that general practitioners could not provide. Currently, these specialists do not receive the proper recognition from other professions or from third-party payers. They sometimes receive recognition of their skills from personal-injury trial lawyers, as they can see the benefits of having those DCs on board for their clients.

Finally, it is important that we pass legislation to ensure Medicare and other insurance equality in payments. As long as DCs are limited in their allowed reimbursement, there will not be the demand for chiropractic care from beneficiaries enrolled in those programs.

What lessons of the past would be valuable for young chiropractors to keep in mind?

Never forget the past. Too many victories for the profession that have been won in the past should not be forgotten. Those lessons include: The value of chiropractic spinal imaging, not just medical imaging; being able to run your own practice/business, and not just relying on “getting a job” from the outside; how hard it is to get favorable legislation passed; why hands-on learning and hands-on treatment is so valuable for the health of our patients; and that it is ok to be different than other health professions on the mode of healing.

Another key lesson for young chiropractors to keep in mind is to learn as much as they can from seasoned practitioners. It is written that Avicenna, who is considered the greatest medieval physician, did not limit himself to theoretical study and teaching but also cared for the sick, and therefore acquired knowledge of medical treatments that cannot be described and could only be learned from practice. This is the art of practice. My advice to young chiropractors is to learn from those who have been in practice for many years.

As a historian, what do you want members of the profession to take away from the 125th anniversary of chiropractic?

A sense of pride and accomplishment. The chiropractic story is a story that needs to be told and told widely. It is an American tale, full of passion, conviction, sacrifice and righteousness…a saga of the courage manifested by a small profession that determined to stand up and face the allopathic Goliath and did so decade after decade. Surprisingly, little is known by the public about the decades-old campaign that chiropractors waged for “medical liberty”: the right of the sick to choose their own preferred method of healing. Perhaps even more surprising is the limited knowledge that young chiropractors have about their noble roots. I hope that young chiropractors will do a better job of learning their proud past.

Is the Association for the History of Chiropractic (AHC) planning anything to mark this milestone?

In 1980, the Association for the History of Chiropractic was founded for the express purpose of discovering, preserving and publishing the credible history of our great profession.

The AHC was to celebrate both its 40th anniversary and chiropractic’s 125th anniversary at its Annual Conference in June on the campus of Palmer College in Davenport. Due to the concerns of the COVID-19 crisis this year, all events have been postponed until June 19-20, 2021. We will visit “Sweet Home,” which was a therapeutic bee/honey farm that Dr. D.D. Palmer and his family had before he got into the healing business and long before the discovery of chiropractic. We will also have two days of great, original presentations, ending in the awarding of the Lee-Homewood Chiropractic Heritage Award, which is given to a living person who has done outstanding service for the chiropractic profession. It is the highest honor that the AHC gives.

Go to our website,, for the list of winners and more information on the association.

Photographs courtesy of the Association for the History of Chiropractic.