A medical trailblazer and the father of modern chiropractic, D.D. Palmer remains an inspiration (or an eccentricity) to many practitioners of the field of medicine that he founded—even a century after his death.
Born in Ontario in 1845, Daniel David Palmer, known as D.D. Palmer, was always fascinated with the medicinal practices of his day, such as magnetic healing, phrenology, and Spiritualism, which was then a widely accepted theory that science and mystic rituals such as séances could reveal the secrets of death and the afterlife, among other things.
When Palmer was 20, he moved to Iowa, making his living as a beekeeper, a fruit merchant, a grocer, and a school teacher. Later, he began practicing magnetic healing in an office building in Davenport. In 1895, Palmer met Harvey Lillard, the building’s janitor. Lillard had a noticeable lump in his back as well as severe hearing loss, and Palmer was intrigued. He theorized that the two maladies were connected and, as he claimed, cured Lillard of his deafness by making two adjustments to Lillard’s displaced vertebra. He also maintained that he cured another patient’s heart disease in the same manner. This is considered by many to be the beginning of chiropractic medicine. A year later, Palmer founded the Palmer School of Magnetic Cure, later rechristened the Palmer School of Chiropractic.
Some of Palmer’s research was considered dubious at best. As he wrote, “We are able to relieve and cure any case of cancer where the sufferer has enough time and vitality left to take the treatment […] Having found the cause of cancer, it is an easy thing to relieve the pressure upon the blood vessels and nerves.”
However, other theories have endured: Palmer hypothesized that misaligned spinal vertebrae directly affect the flow of nerve impulses, and that realigning these vertebrae can restore health. While Palmer had no official medical training (he finished his education at the age of 11), he still styled himself as “Dr. Palmer,” and was brought up on charges three times for practicing medicine without a license. He was acquitted the first two times. However, the third time, in 1906 he was convicted and jailed for a brief time. Upon his release, he left Iowa, leaving the school in the hands of his son, Bartlett Joshua (B.J.) Palmer, also a chiropractor.
As Palmer grew older, his eccentricity increased. He claimed that he received chiropractic from “the other world,” and, according to the Notable Names Database, “argued that instead of seeking changes in the law to make chiropractic legal, chiropractors should claim that their work is protected by freedom of religion.”
Palmer passed away in 1913. There is some disagreement over the nature of his death—the official cause of death was recorded as typhoid fever. However, a few weeks earlier, Palmer was apparently run over by a car driven by his son, B.J. Palmer, at a parade in Davenport. He died in Los Angeles a few weeks later. Due to the estrangement of the two, many theorize that this “accident” was anything but—Palmer and his son were constantly at odds over the leadership of chiropractic medicine. However, chiropractic historians disagree about whether the accident actually occurred at all—an eyewitness apparently reported that D.D. Palmer had simply fallen down on his own. A mysterious end to a mysterious man—yet he left behind much to consider concerning the birth of chiropractic.
The medical discipline he pioneered has evolved over the years and now provides a variety of important health benefits to millions of people all over the world. In particular, today’s chiropractic physicians are recognized as experts in diagnosing and treating conditions related to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. They have also emerged as leading proponents of lifestyle changes that can prevent many chronic health problems, including improved nutritional and exercise habits.