Going to Jail for Chiropractic:

the untold story
of the medical war against chiropractors

Going to Jail


Patients protest outside the Ohio jail where their doctor,
Herbert R. Reaver, D.C., was imprisoned.

Joseph C. Keating, Jr., Ph.D., Carl S. Cleveland III, D.C., Michael Menke, M.A., D.C., “Chiropractic History: a Primer,” (c) 2004,
Association for the History of Chiropractic, Davenport, Iowa




Lyndon McCash, DC, in jail in Oakland, Calif., in 1920,
one of hundreds of California chiropractors incarcerated for
unlicensed practice prior to passage of the Chiropractic Act in 1922.



Fred Courtney, DC, adjusting cell mates

in LA County jail, Feb. 1921

Used by permission of Palmer College of Chiropractic

 

The Medical War

“Scientific medicine absorbs from them that which is good,

if there is any good, and then they die.”

Morris Fishbein, MD, former AMA Executive Director[1]

The medical profession has waged a number of highly publicized wars, such as the early wars against small pox and polio, and then the less successful wars against cancer and heart disease. However, these were mere skirmishes compared to the biggest battle of them all.

Unquestionably, the American Medical Association (AMA) has fought its longest, most aggressive, and most illegal war against chiropractors. They were essentially the last survivors after the AMA’s wars against other competitors were victorious. Chiropractors reluctantly became the most prominent resistance fighters for freedom of choice in healthcare and, for nearly a century, it was a war chiropractors were to fight alone.

According to historian Russell W. Gibbons, chiropractors felt the brunt as one of the first grass roots movements in America:

…like abolitioinists, chiropractors were systematically persecuted and driven from town to town. Like the feminists and suffragettes, chiropractors were made objects of ridicule. And like the civil rights workers of more recent times, chiropractors were intimidated and subverted by agents and provacateurs. In the finest tradition of reform movements, they were imprisoned for their beliefs. [2]

To place this warfare into historical perspective, America was still in the throes of civil injustice in many arenas when the medical war began. Civil rights and political diversity were not championed during this era. Residual racism from the Civil War was still rampant with the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow mindset prevalent in many communities; women had not yet achieved voting rights; anti-Semitism was brewing internationally; and the power of an emerging medical monarchy in American was taking hold.

Certainly a conflict of ideas between these different approaches was inevitable, but this medical war turned malicious from the beginning because it was never fought in a professional manner with scholarly seminars, comparative clinical research studies, or inter-professional debates. Instead, political medicine used the courts to prosecute chiropractors, lobbied the state legislatures to resist licensing of chiropractors, fought against chiropractic educational improvements, and influenced the media to disparage the reputations of chiropractors. No leaf was left unturned in this campaign to destroy the chiropractic profession.

Early twentieth century medical science refused to investigate the embryonic neurobiological science of chiropractic care or recognize the value of the ageless art of manipulative therapy to help the pandemic of back pain. Historically, the art of spinal manipulation is not a new healing method—over 3,000 years ago the great Egyptian doctor, Imhotep, wrote of this healing art.[3]

In ancient Greece, Hippocrates provided more evidence in his book, On Joints, written in the fifth century BC. This described the practice of spinal manipulation by physical means such as traction or local pressure to correct spinal deformities. [4] 

During the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci (1452­-1519) accurately described the anatomy of the spine and was perhaps the first to investigate spinal stability. The first comprehensive treatise on biomechanics, De Motu Animalium, was published in 1680 by Giovanni Borelli, who is often called the “Father of Spinal Biomechanics.”[5]

The term “bonesetter” first appeared as an English word in 1510 and this skill was an art taught via hands-on training, not in schools, and generally kept secret by family members.[6]  One medieval European bonesetter, Sir Herbert Atkinson Barker, was knighted by the King George V of England.[7] Early bonesetters such as the families of Sweets and Tieszens immigrated to the United States long before AT Still began osteopathy in 1874 or DD Palmer began chiropractic in 1895. [8],[9],[10] 

Rather than searching for the truth how this ageless art has helped patients, political medicine instead chose to behave more like a ruthless monarchy persecuting its competitors rather than a professional society seeking scientific truths to help the sick and infirmed.

How the AMA became this medical monarchy required important political maneuvers. First would entail gaining authority and power by petitioning the government. The medical society had to convince politicians as well as the courts that they were the only ones capable to determine their own technical standards. A U.S. Supreme Court decision (Dent v. State of West Virginia, 129 U.S. 114, 122-123) in 1888 enabled this concept when Justice Stephen Field wrote that “comparatively few” could comprehend the “subtle and mysterious” nature of medical work.[11]

The ploy by the medical society to regulate its competition fell under the guise of “public safety.” The AMA, as the “guardians of health,” created practice regulations based solely on its own allopathic principles and educational standards, excluding all other types of healing arts as “unscientific.”

According to Carl Ameringer, author of The Health Care Revolution:[12]

Professionalism was a response to the perceived chaos of the nineteenth century, in which quacks, pretenders, and poorly trained practitioners proliferated for lack of educational standards and government regulation. Medical licensing, which took hold in the late 1800s, was a prime example. On the one hand, politicians gained from having professionals solve societal problems without having to expand the size of government; on the other, professionals furthered their own interests by wielding governmental authority to control competition. (emphasis added)

By 1901, all states had delegated authority to the medical profession to set standards and to police itself with a medical code of ethics. The code also demanded physicians “to bear testimony against quackery in all its forms,” which included homeopathy, naturopathy, eclectics, and Christian Scientists. Later osteopaths and chiropractors became targets of physicians and their medical societies.[13] Not only were snake oil salesmen a target of this anti-quackery effort, so too were non-allopathic, drugless practitioners who disdained drugs of any sort. The medical society also deplored those allopaths who advertised for patients, their action being perceived as a “divisive” behavior.[14]

The strategy in the medical war against quackery embraced a new tactic after the demise of patent medicines.  Ironically, those now branded as “quacks” were no longer just the “snake oil” salesmen associated with patent medicines. Many victims in this emerging medical war were principally the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioners. 

DD Palmer, the founder of chiropractic, was in good company when the AMA began the witch hunt on the new quacks. In 1906, Palmer found himself in this anti-quackery hysteria led by the AMA that was sweeping the country, so it would come as no surprise that was he was the first chiropractor convicted and sent to jail for practicing medicine without a license.[15]

In view of the fact that no layman was hurt or complained about Palmer’s treatment, this trial was really a sham that became the first act of war against chiropractic. Like the shot heard around the world at Lexington, it was the first blow from the AMA’s heavy handiness to stop chiropractic’s healing hands, and it would not be the final one.

According to historian Russell Gibbons, Palmer “waxed eloquent in his defense” during the trial and after his conviction gave his own closing remarks:

The jury was not to blame for rendering the verdict they did. Behind the jury was the judge, who gave his instructions. Behind the judge was the medical law. This law was not made by the people, but by the medical profession. It was made for the purpose of protecting that profession. Not for protecting you and I.

I, as DD Palmer, the discoverer and developer, the originator of Chiropractic…feel that I have a constitutional liberty to the discovery that I have made and the people have the right to it.[16]

Palmer spoke of the basic rights in healthcare—the freedom of choice by patients seeking health care was not protected by the Constitution nor is it today. Neither is the right of any type of practitioner to practice healthcare. Simply the laying of hands to help suffering is considered legally the practice of medicine and it was this legal loophole that enabled the medical monarchy to wield the authority of government.

The rights of patients to use chiropractors and the right of chiropractors to help patients without legal persecution would only be guaranteed when the last state law was passed in Louisiana nearly three-quarters of a century after DD Palmer’s conviction. Thousands of other chiropractic martyrs would continue to be incarcerated until those scope laws were individually passed in each state to establish and protect the chiropractors’ scope of practice.

Palmer after his conviction pointed out one bit of irony at his trial:

                      When Con Murphy (the assisting prosecuting attorney) came in here yesterday, he did not offer his services as prosecuting attorney. He was brought into my office, suffering excruciating pain from sciatica rheumatism, and was cured with one adjustment. It was a crime to tell it.[17]

The scene of a prosecuting district attorney or arresting officer in a defendant’s office would be replayed many times by local police officers who were also patients of the chiropractors they were arresting. Often many imprisoned chiropractors were allowed to adjust patients and jailers while incarcerated.

When the medical monarchy’s prosecution of chiropractors spread throughout the country, out of legal necessity the chiropractic profession had to develop a defense, and the unique philosophy of chiropractic became its cornerstone.[18] 

DD Palmer in his writings made it clear that the science and philosophy of chiropractic was distinctly different than osteopathy or allopathic medicine–nerves vs. blood–and this became the foundation for its legal defense. The landmark legal case that rescued chiropractors from continued persecution would feature a most unlikely man–a Japanese immigrant by the name of Shegetaro Morikubo–who attended Palmer School of Chiropractic (PSC) in 1906.

He was a learned man having previously earned a PhD from the Tokyo Academy of Science, was fluent in German and English, and while a student at PSC was involved with DD Palmer in the development of his book, The Chiropractor’s Adjustor. In fact, many of the photo illustrations in the book were of him as DD’s patient.[19]

In 1907, Morikubo settled in the Midwestern town of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where he encountered not only a hostile medical society, but anti-Oriental racism and conservative opposition to liberal immigration sentiments. When he was arrested for practicing medicine without a license, The LaCrosse Tribune newspaper headline proclaimed, “Jap Chiropractor Arrested.”

According to historian William S. Rehm, “The Tribune’s race-baiting was obvious as it characterized Morikubo’s reaction to being arrested. ‘I am an American citizen duly naturalized and insist upon my American rights and liberties,’ said the little Jap with flashing eyes to this reporter.”[20]

To Morikubo’s rescue came BJ Palmer and famed liberal attorney Tom Morris, formerly the LaCrosse County district attorney from 1900 to 1904, who had a reputation for opposing what he considered to be selfish interests–the railroads, the rich, the “stalwarts” of the Republican Party, including the medical society.17

Morris found a winning defense when he introduced two essential differences between chiropractic and his opponents—osteopathy and allopathic medicine—a different “philosophy” and different healing techniques. He found his supportive research not from anything either DD Palmer or BJ Palmer had written, but from a textbook by Solon M. Langworthy, a staunch rival of the Palmers with his school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with his journal, The Backbone, and with his new textbook, Modernized Chiropractic, also published in 1906.[21]

Morris showed the court that, according to Langworthy’s propositions, chiropractic was concerned with nerves while osteopathy and medicine were primarily focused on blood. He also showed that chiropractic techniques were more specific and specialized compared to the more general osteopathic manipulation.

 DD Palmer wrote about this important trial that “it took the jury but twenty minutes to decide” in favor of Morikubo. [22]  This huge victory established chiropractic as a separate and distinct health profession. Morris was retained by BJ Palmer and the Universal Chiropractors Association (UCA) and they established a Chiropractic Health Bureau as a legal defense group to defend chiropractors elsewhere by creating a network of regional attorneys throughout the country.[23]

From 1907 until his death in 1928, attorney Tom Morris was the chief legal counsel for the UCA and principal “defender of chiropractic.”  Headquartered in La Crosse, Morris’ law firm defended thousands of DCs charged with unlicensed practice, and won a reputed 75-80 percent of their cases, especially when the verdict was rendered by a jury rather than a judge.[24] 

BJ Palmer and John Fitz Alan Howard (who founded in 1906 the National School of Chiropractic (NSC) and now known as the National University of Health Sciences in Chicago), agreed that chiropractic needed to create distinctive terminology and a unique philosophy for the purpose of legal protection. 

In his 1934 Memoirs, Howard stated:

In the early days it was necessary to protect the ‘child’ (as DD was wont to refer to his Chiropractic) by evasive terminology in order to avoid the chill and ice of the law and ‘analysis’ was used for diagnosis, ‘adjustment’ was employed for treatment, ‘pressure on the nerve’ was used for reflex stimulation or inhibition, etc.  These terms were garments to protect the child until legal clothing could be secured.[25]

Unfortunately, as author R.P. Beideman noted, too many chiropractors took this “legal clothing to be gospel, rather than a temporary semantic means to one end only–legal protection.”[26] From this would later evolve the evangelistic branch of the chiropractic tree.

In 1908 Howard moved his NSC to Illinois so as to obtain the "legal clothing" instantaneously of drugless physicians through the Medical Practice Act which was already in place since 1899. Illinois chiropractors were licensed as doctors to diagnose and treat human ailments without the use of drugs, medicine and operative surgery.[27] This legal coverage prevented the mass arrests in Illinois experienced by chiropractors in other states.

While the National School of Chiropractic favored the drugless, non-surgical aspect of Palmer’s brand of “straight” chiropractic, the National brand had a much broader, liberal platform” of chiropractic. More shocking to the Palmers was Howard’s difference that chiropractic could cure all disease:[28]

Before taking up the application of Chiropractic, or “Chiropractic in Practice,” we desire that the student shall have a thorough understanding of the comprehensive and liberal platform for which our school stands. We do not claim that it is a panacea for all ills, nor that it is potent in all cases to the entire exclusion or depreciation of other agencies. [29] (emphasis added).

Dr. Howard refrained from DD Palmer’s belief that 95 percent of all disease stemmed from the spine and, instead, constructed a holistic drugless therapeutic system including the essential features characterizing the practice of chiropractic as it would become more widely accepted and practiced today.[30]

In 1906, these two branches that sprouted from the chiropractic tree would lock horns in a bitter civil war and remain rivals to this day–the fundamentalist Palmer “straight” branch and the Howard “mixer” branch.

In battles in state legislatures, progress was slowly being made to protect chiropractors and their patients. Dr. Anna M. Foy, seven other Kansas chiropractors, and BJ Palmer founded the Kansas Chiropractic Association on January 28, 1911. That led to Kansas passing the first chiropractic licensing law in the world.  In recognition of her efforts, Dr. Anna M. Foy received Kansas license Number 1.[31]

In 1913, legislation similar to that of the Illinois Medical Practice Act passed in the states of Pennsylvania and Michigan. It consisted of Drugless Practitioners amendments to their Medical Practice Acts, which included chiropractors. This was followed by rather generous inclusions of broad scope chiropractic practice in the Medical Practice Acts of the States of Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Alabama.

This legal precedent did not stop the prosecutors in other states. Until 1922, when a referendum was passed in California to protect chiropractors, roundups were used to jail chiropractors en masse as this account testifies:

In just one year [1921] 450 of approximately 600 chiropractors were hauled into court and convicted of practicing without a license. They were given jail sentences or the alternative of a fine. They chose to go to jail.[32]

Convictions became more difficult as patients refused to testify against them. In 1922, after four chiropractors were jailed in Taft, California, the judge asked the sheriff why there were so few witnesses in view of the many subpoenas issued. The Sheriff said:

Your Honor, the sheriff’s office has been unable to catch the witnesses. They hide under beds and run out the back doors. They won’t testify against these chiropractors. The Sheriff’s office has a lot of important business, so if you want these witnesses, you’ll have to catch them yourself.[33]

The nastiness of the medical profession was evident not only by these legal persecutions, but by many uncivil acts.  For example, in 1926, a medical society spokesman debating Lyndon Lee, DC, a 1915 Palmer graduate and former Amherst student, snarled at Lee during a legislative fray in New York State:

“Yes, we are against you. We are against chiropractic and all other fakers. If this legislature will give us this bill, we will drive you and your ilk out of this state! What do think about that?”

“First, sir,” Lee responded, “I’d like to see your driver’s license.”[34]

The warning to “drive you and your ilk out of this state” was not merely a blowhard speaking, but it was a real threat that happened to many chiropractors. Like the KKK terrorizing African-Americans, the medical society was powerful in the courtrooms, in the churches, and in the streets.

Evon Barvinchack, a second-generation chiropractor, spoke of a childhood event in the 1940s when he first experienced the “Juice Man” from the local police department in Binghamton, New York. The Juice Man came to squeeze his father for extortion payoff:

In 1945 my dad graduated from Palmer Chiropractic College and opened his first practice at 38 Baxter Street, Binghamton, New York. This is where the “Juice Man” roamed. He was usually accompanied by two other enforcers. Chiropractic was not licensed in New York State at this time. Therefore, my dad was guilty of practicing medicine without a license. Thus the Juice Man. It is my understanding that in order to not go to jail, chiropractors paid the Juice Man to “look the other way” (equivalent to a modern day protection racket). As with all “protection” scams, the price kept going up and it became harder and harder for the chiropractors to come up with the money.

So now the Juice Man had a quandary: if he jailed the chiropractors he lost his cash stream. Thus, the beatings began; I remember my mother crying and screaming and my Dad being knocked around his office. Once he was dragged out into the front yard and publically beaten. I still have a picture in my mind of his severely swollen face and a black eye—a very grotesque picture to a young boy. This was the first black eye I had ever seen. My mother said I had nightmares about it for several months. Another local DC was hospitalized after one of his beatings.

Evidently, the Juice Man was someone of authority or had connections to someone of authority, because he scared my parents and other chiropractors. How much did he collect I don’t know and I don’t think my parents ever said. But I remember my mother telling me that “the Juice Man” stole our Christmas. My dad soon closed his office in Binghamton and moved to Marathon, New York. No Juice Man there.[35]

Dr. Barvinchack’s experience was not the only example of this medical persecution in New York. In 1949, the saga of two chiropractic “jailhouse martyrs” occurred in New York. Katherine “Kitty” Scallon and her husband, Mack Scallon, also a chiropractor in Manhattan (their patients included Ambassador Joseph Kennedy), were jailed simultaneously when they refused to desist in the practice of medicine without a license.

Kitty Scallon said from the Women’s House of Detention in 1949:

Being here [in jail] is sometimes like a bad dream…but I’d throw my shoulders back and be ready and willing to make any sacrifice to help free our beloved science.[36]

The same battles were fought in every unregulated state until 1974 when the last state, Louisiana, passed the state law to create a separate scope of practice for chiropractors. The law now protected chiropractors from charges of practicing medicine without a license, but these legislative victories did not come without a price.

It is difficult for Americans to imagine such skullduggery would occur simply because chiropractors chose to help people get well with only their hands, without drugs or surgery. Today people do not understand the dedication by many activists in the long fight to preserve the chiropractic profession.

Dr. James Edwards, former chairman of the American Chiropractic Association, spoke about one such warrior, Dr. Lyndon Lee, who led the chiropractors in New York in the half-century struggle for licensure. He was 95 years old when he died and had practiced in Mt. Vernon, New York, for 65 years. He retired in 1979 at the age of 91 only due to a fractured hip.

Dr. Lee’s passing brought the finish to one of the more remarkable personal histories of the chiropractic profession. He graduated from Palmer School of Chiropractic in 1915 and was a charter member of the reorganized New York State Chiropractic Society and became one of the profession’s best known figures. He helped draft every licensing bill presented to the New York legislature between 1915 and 1963 when a favorable vote was finally obtained. During his career he had many roles including serving as vice-president-at-large of the American Chiropractic Association in the late 1920s and was all everything for the state of New York for decades.

But I want to tell you what I consider Dr. Lee's greatest achievement. In 1933, Dr. Lee was arrested and cited for “practicing medicine without a license.” Although he would finally be acquitted, his case was in and out of the courts 30 times within the next three years. Dr. Lee and others like him were singled out and tested by those who were trying to destroy chiropractic during those early years. We have this great profession today because the Lee pioneers were willing to pay the price for what they believed in.[37]

History books will never mention that 12,000 chiropractors were jailed, collectively, over 15,000 times in the first thirty years of the twentieth century for allegedly practicing medicine without a license, resulting in 3,300 convictions, even though chiropractors never used drugs or surgery.[1]   Ironically, their real crime was getting people well without drugs or surgery. No matter what healing method used, the AMA was against any and all competition and used its political might to maintain their monarchy, including mass arrests.

Although a cascade of victories in state legislatures won the chiropractic profession legal recognition and protection from medical harassment, the acrimonious, dominating medical monarchy—aided by a medical-friendly media—would continue to battle chiropractors in the war for public opinion and in federal/state legislative conflicts. Although chiropractic had dodged one bullet with licensure, it was certainly not out of the line of fire in the medical war.

The AMA was poised to continue the fight on other battle fronts, and they needed a strong leader to maintain control of the healthcare market by fostering public skepticism of chiropractic practitioners with a multi-year campaign of dirty tricks, public propaganda, legislative obstruction, and other coercive legal tactics. Such deliberate tactics were to become the hallmark of the AMA’s leadership under its most notorious leader .



[1] Gibbons, ibid. pp.61–71.



[1] M Fishbein,  Medical Follies, New York, Boni & Liveright, (1925): 43.

[2] R Gibbons, ibid. p. 67.

[3] NM Hadler, Stabbed In The Back; Confronting Back Pain In An Overtreated Society, University of North Carolina Press, (2009):6-7

[4] Haldeman, Ibid. p. 7.

[5] S Abhay, S Setti Rengachary, The History of Spinal Biomechanics,Neurosurgery 39 (1996):657-69.

[6] Abhay  ibid. p. 657.

[7] Unifiedbonesetter.com/page5.htm

[8] AT Still, Autobiography —With a History of the Discovery and Development of the Science of Osteopathy. (New York: Arno Press, 1972; New York Times).

[9] MR McPartland, “The Bonesetter Sweets of South County, Rhode Island,” YANKEE (January 1968)

[10] AT Still, Autobiography —With a History of the Discovery and Development of the Science of Osteopathy. (New York: Arno Press, 1972; New York Times).

[11] C Ameringer, ibid. p. 23, (Dent v. State of West Virginia, 129 U.S. 114, 122-123 [1888])

[12] C Ameringer, The Health Care Revolution, UC Press Foundation, (2008):22.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Gielow, Davenport Democrat publishes story of DD's conviction and refusal to pay fine (Mar 28, 1906), (1981):106,

[16] R Gibbons, ibid. p. 62.

[17] Gibbons, ibid. p. 62. (found in The Chiropractor, 3/4 ( April 1906).

[18] D Seaman, A Cure for the Curse of Chiropractic, Part One, Dynamic Chiropractic 25/3 (January 29, 2007).

[19] Gibbons, ibid. p. 64.

[20] Gibbons, ibid. p. 65.

[21] Rehm, ibid. p 53.

[22] Palmer, ibid. p. 389.

[23] Rehm, ibid. p 53.

[24] JC Keating, “The Gestation & Difficult Birth of the American Chiropractic Association,” National Institute of Chiropractic Research,  A Presentation to the Association for the History of Chiropractic (June 2006)

[25] RP Beideman, In the Making of a Profession:  The National College of Chiropractic, (1906-1981), National College of Chiropractic, Lombard, IL (1995):28.

[26] Beideman, ibid. p. 38

[27] RP Beideman, “Chiropractors Are Physicians (And Almost Always Were),” Journal of Chiropractic Humanities The National College of Chiropractic (1999): 7.

[28] JFA Howard, “Home Study Course,” 15 (1910): 391

[29] Ibid. p. 10.

[30] Ibid. p. 3

[31] WS Rehm, “Kansas Coconuts: Legalizing Chiropractic in the First State, 1910-1915.” The Archives and Journal of the Association for the History of Chiropractic, Centennial Issue, (December, 1995)

[32] B Inglis. The Case For Unorthodox Medicine, New York: GP Putnam (1963)

[33] Ibid. p. 67.

[34] Gibbons, ibid, p. 67.

[35] E Barvinchack  via private communication with JC Smith, 9-9-10.

[36] Gibbons, ibid. p. 27.

[37] J Edwards, DC,  Logan College of Chiropractic Commencement Address, (August 23, 2008)

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