MD, PhD, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

In his writings, DD Palmer (the father of chiropractic), left little doubt about how he felt about himself and his achievements. A few quotes will suffice to give an impression:

  • I was the first to adjust the cause of disease
  • Chiropractors adjust causes instead of treating effects
  • Vaccination and inoculation are pathological; chiropractic is physiological
  • It was my ingenious brain which discovered [chiropractic’s] first principle; I was its source; I gave it birth; to me all chiropractors trace their chiropractic lineage
  • Among the wonderful achievements of this century, the discovery and development of chiropractic is preeminent; it is destined to replace all methods which treat effects

With this post, I will simply outline DD’s extraordinary life. I intend to leave it to you, the reader of this post, to decide whether it was the life of a genius or that of a charlatan.

  • 1845, 7 March: birth in Port Perry, near Toronto, Canada
  • 1865, April: Palmer family immigrate to the US
  • 1867: DD Palmer starts as a teacher in Concord, Iowa
  • 1869, November: DD and his younger brother TJ become beekeepers in Letts, Iowa
  • 1871, 20 January: DD marries Abba Lord who calls herself a ‘psychometrist, clairvoyant physician, soul reader and business medium’.
  • 1872, 6 July: DD publishes an article in the ‘ Religio Philosophical Journal’ calling himself an atheist
  • 1872: DD later states that he started his career as a ‘healer’ during this period
  • 1873: Abba leaves DD and later becomes a ‘homeopathic physician’ in Mineapolis.
  • 1876, 7 October: DD marries Louvenia Landers, a widow; they have 4 children together, including BJ who later becomes DD’s partner in the chiropractic business.
  • 1878, 19 April: the Palmer’s 5-months old daughter dies
  • 1878, May: DD is elected president of the ‘Western Illonois and Eastern Iowa Society of Bee Keepers’
  • 1880: DD publishes a pamphlet about spiritualism and refers to himself as a ‘spiritualist’
  • 1881 BJ Palmer is born; he later all but took over the chiropractic business and is often referred to as the ‘developer of chiropractic’
  • 1882 DD sells his beekeeping business, moves to What Cheer, Iowa where the rest of his family live
  • 1883, 30 May: DD opens a grocery store in What Cheer
  • 1884, 20 November: Louvenia dies of consumption
  • 1885, February: DD sells his grocery store and ‘moves on’
  • 1885, 25 May: DD marries Martha Henning. The marriage is short-lived; on 8 July of the same year, DD posted a public notice in the ‘What Cheer Patriot’ disowning her
  • 1885: DD moves back to Letts where he teaches at the local school
  • 1886: DD moves to Iola, Kansas where he practices as a magnetic healer and calls himself ‘Dr Palmer, healer’
  • 1886, 3 September: DD advertises his services as a ‘vitalist healer’ in Burlington, Iowa
  • 1887, 9 October: DD advertises ‘dis-ease is a condition of not ease, lack of ease’, a theme that he later uses regularly for chiropractic
  • 1887, 25 October: one of DD’s patients has died and there is an inquest. The local paper describes DD with the term ‘dense ignorance’ and the coroner states that ‘we censure the so-called doctor, DD Palmer, attending physician, for his lack of treatment and ignorance in the case’. DD leaves Burlington to avoid persecution (a new law requires all healers to register with the state medical board. DD does not have such a registration)
  • 1887: DD moves to Davenport and advertises: DD Palmer, cures without medicine…’
  • 1888, 6 November: DD marries Villa; they stay together until her death in 1905
  • 1894: DD publishes his views on smallpox vaccination: ‘…the monstrous delusion … fastened on us by the medical profession, enforced by the state boards, and supported by the mass of unthinking people …’
  • 1894: DD publishes his views about ‘greedy doctors’ and the ‘medical monopoly’
  • 1895, January: DD starts a business selling gold fish
  • 1895, 18 September: DD administers the 1st spinal manipulation to Harvey Lillard (DD later seems confused about this date stating that this ‘was done about Dec. 1st, 1895’)
  • 1896, 14 January is the date when, according to DD, chiropractic received its name with the help of Reverent Weed
  • 1896: DD publishes an article in ‘The Magnetic’ stating ‘ the magnetic cure: how to get well and keep well without using poisonous drugs’
  • 1896: DD publishes on bacteria outlining his theory that bacteria cannot grow on healthy tissue; keeping tissue healthy is therefore the best prevention against infections; and this is best achieved by magnetic healing
  • 1896: DD claimed that 4 years earlier, in 1892, he had discovered the magnetic cure for cancer; it involved freeing the stomach and spleen of poisons
  • 1896: DD formulates his concept of treating the root cause of any disease
  • 1896, 10 July: DD, his wife and his brother turn the ‘Palmer School of Magnetic Cure’ in Davenport into an officially registered corporation
  • 1897: DD defines chiropractic as ‘a science of healing without drugs’
  • 1898: DD opens his first school of chiropractic in Davenport, the ‘Palmer School of Chiropractic’ which has survivied to the present day.
  • 1902, 27 April: DD first used the term ‘subluxation’ in a letter to his son BJ (‘… where you find the greatest heat, there you will find the subluxation causing the inflammation which produces the fever…’)
  • 1902: DD leaves suddenly for California, apparently to open a West Coast branch of the Palmer School; he stays for about two years and then returns to Davenport leaving behind substantial depts
  • 1902, 6 September: DD is arrested in Pasadena when a patient suffering from consumption dies after DD’s second adjustment; in October, the charges were dropped because of a technicality
  • 1903: DD opens the ‘Palmer Chiropractic School in Santa Barbara, California, together with his former student Oakley Smith
  • 1903 DD is charged with practising medicine without licence but, before the case goes to trial, DD goes to Chicago where he charters a school together two other chiropractors (Smith and Paxson); the project fails
  • 1903, 30 April: DD is back in Davenport for the wedding of BJ with Mabel
  • 1904, December: DD starts his new journal ‘The Chiropractor’ which survives until 1961. DD’s very first article is entitled ’17 Years of Practice’
  • 1905: DD’s former students Langworthy and Smith accuse DD of stealing the concepts of chiropractic from the Bohemian bonesetters of Iowa
  • 1905, 9 November: DD’s wife Villa overdoses on morphine and dies; the coroner is unable to tell whether she committed suicide or intended it for pain relief
  • 1906, 11 January: DD marries Mary Hunter, apparently his first love from Letts
  • 1906, 26 March: DD is again on trial for practising medicine without a licence. He is found guilty the next day. The penalty is US$ 350 or 105 days in jail. DD choses jail. However, his new wife, Mary, bails him out after 23 days.
  • 1906: DD sells his share in the chiropractic business to his son and moves to Medford Oklahoma. The reasons for this split are said to be personal, financial and professional
  • 1906, 4 June: in a letter to John Howard, DD accuses his son of dishonesty and of running the school badly
  • 1906: BJ and DD publish their opus maximus ‘Science of Chiropractic’; DD claims that most of the chapters were written by him
  • 1907, January: DD opens another grocery store
  • 1908: together with a colleague, DD opens the ‘Palmer-Gregory Chiropractic College’; it lasts only 9 weeks. DD leaves because he discovered that Alva Gregory, a medical doctor, was teaching medical ideas
  • 1908, 9 November: DD opens the ‘Palmer College of Chiropractic’ in Portland, Oregon
  • 1908, December: DD starts a new journal, ‘The Chiropractor’s Adjuster’; many of his articles focus on criticising BJ. The journal only seems to have survives until 1910
  • 1910, December: DD publishes his book ‘The Chiropractor’s Adjuster’.
  • 1911: DD toys with the idea of turning chiropractic into a religion, as this would avoid chiropractors being sued for practising medicine without a license
  • 1913: DD visits Davenport for the ‘Lyceum Parade’ where he is injured. Mary accuses BJ of striking his father with his car and thus indirectly causing his death, a version of events which is disputed
  • 1913, September: DD is back in California and writes to JB Olson that he gave 22 lectures in Davenport. DD also reports: ‘… On the return I cured a man of sun stroke by one thrust on the 5th dorsal. That is what I call definitive, specific, scientific chiropractic…’
  • 1913, 20 October: DD dies; the official cause of death is typhoid fever, a condition that he repeatedly claimed to be curable by a single spinal adjustment.
  • 1914: DD Palmer’s book ‘The Chiropractor’ is published.

36 Responses to David Daniel Palmer: the life of a genius or the career of a charlatan?

  • Obviously, he was a great man. Just ask him.

    But did you have to remind us he was Canadian? It’s a little embarrassing. Sorry about that.

    Interestingly, DD says he became a healer in 1872. Yet, he went on to open grocery stores and launch a gold fish business. Was he just hedging his bets?

  • Ah, one of our great Canadian exports, up there with Tom Cruz.

    It is a pity he did not stay with bee keeping. He might have revolutionized the field.

  • How proud he would be of the faux-doctor degree, arcane tests, innumerable adjusting-theatrics, Insurance coverage AND advanced specialty-certifications such as Chiropractic neurology, orthopedics and gynecology! Give a man a fish and he eats for a day…teach him to fish for subluxations and he can screw the public out of money for decades.

  • The man’s life almost reads like that of one afflicted with a bipolar-type schizoaffective disorder. While it is true that the line between genius and mental illness can sometimes be hazy his biography reads as something well beyond a bit of eccentric-ism. His travels certainly do not ring of that restlessness sometimes referred to as pioneer spirit.

    If he could not make it in What Cheer during the time he was there that alone is a reflection on his instability. What Cheer was a booming coal mine town until the early 1900’s. One would think he could have found a willing base of patients amidst the semi-literate and lower income populace profoundly represented in the community at the time. Though in fairness perhaps his then-wife’s death brought on a profound depression that set him emotionally adrift as it were.

    Regardless of my speculation you treated the man fairly. Res ipsa loquitur.

    • I find it quite curious that those here who stand in line with SBM, perceive that 100% of all CAM & Homeopathy therapist are thei’vn scam artist, quacks and charlatans. None of whom care the least about the patients will being.

      While 100% of MD’s are only concerned with the patients health, not concerned with making money, and are not just as concerned with covering their own arses from legal disputes.

      Nothing in the world is that black or white…. wake up.

      • RG,
        For once, I agree with you. From my experience, the sCAM merchants mostly do care about their victim’s health and try to do something positive for them (except, of course, for the Douglas, the naturopath, just up from me who used it as excuse to feel up women’s tits, until he was charged and convicted). The only ‘real’ problem is that all of them are/were too stupid to realise it is all bullshit. They are all seriously stupid, unbelievably so, generally nice people, but ridiculously stupid. The idiot chiropractor across the street from me would not realise his arse was on fire unless he was told.

        I put you in this category too based on your nonsensical posts. Your cavalier use of Logical Fallacies, without realising they are, puts you at the forefront of the terminally deluded.

        • @Frank Collins

          The only ‘real’ problem is that all of them are/were too stupid to realise it is all bullshit. They are all seriously stupid, unbelievably so, generally nice people, but ridiculously stupid. The idiot chiropractor across the street from me would not realise his arse was on fire unless he was told.

          So, if I understand you correctly. . .

        • @Frank Collins

          “I put you in this category too based on your nonsensical posts. Your cavalier use of Logical Fallacies, without realising they are, puts you at the forefront of the terminally deluded.”

          I would disagree, I am not deluded.
          The interesting thing is this. While I was under the direction and attention of MD’s, my health was much worse off during my years in the thirties and forties of my life. Since I turned away from MD’s and SBM. I am doing much better and living life trouble free in my fifties and sixties.

          If I’m deluded, I don’t mind it at all. Seems to me I’m the better off. I’m sticking with what works for me…. you do the same.

          • @RG You have long since convinced us you do not like modern medicine and modern doctors. For us to evaluate your rants and ravings, and perhaps appreciate them, you will have to tell us at least who you are and what happened.

          • @Bjorn

            I for the same reasons as millions of others, choose to remain anonymous on the internet. If for some reason it lessons my message…. so be it.

            If and when I need a surgery, I’ll see an MD.
            If and when I need blood analysis, I’ll get it done.
            If and when I need some antibiotic, I’ll consider consuming it.
            If and when I need some diagnostic imaging, I’ll have it done.

            See now, I’m not completely opposed to ALL SBM.

  • taken in context of the times, even medicine was struggling to find remedies for ailments. example…

    https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/57983/9-terrifying-medical-treatments-1900-and-their-safer-modern-versions

    • One advanced while the other is, and forever will be, charlatanry ‘practiced’ by deluded morons who could not even get into a physio degree course, let alone medicine.

      • Yes, medicine is so advanced that for nonspecific low back pain they now recommend what most chiropractors have been recommending for many decades.

        “New guidelines from the American College of Physicians recommend that physicians avoid prescribing drugs, particularly opioids, to treat acute and subacute low back pain and should instead emphasize non-pharmacologic therapies, such as superficial heat, massage, and physical therapy.” BMJ 2017;356:j840

        • @ DC

          Those guidelines are highly dubious:

          QUOTE:
          “That guideline contains that great mystery of all the guidelines: how they can make strong recommendations based on low-quality evidence? Got me. It is the alchemy of guidelines, turning digested straw into spun gold. Here is the text. The effect of spinal manipulation is unimpressive:
          ‘Low-quality evidence showed that spinal manipulation was associated with a small effect on function compared with sham manipulation; evidence was insufficient to determine the effect on pain. Low-quality evidence showed no difference in pain relief at 1 week between spinal manipulation and inert treatment (educational booklet, detuned ultrasound, detuned or actual short-wave diathermy, antiedema gel, or bed rest), although 1 trial showed better longer-term pain relief (3 months) with spinal manipulation. Function did not differ between spinal manipulation and inert treatment at 1 week or 3 months. Moderate-quality evidence showed no difference between spinal manipulation and other active interventions for pain relief at 1 week through 1 year or function (analyses included exercise, physical therapy, or back school as the comparator). Low-quality evidence showed that a combination of spinal manipulation plus exercise or advice slightly improved function at 1 week compared with exercise or advice alone, but these differences were not present at 1 or 3 months.’
          Anyone impressed? Not me. It is the usual pseudo-medical analysis, a hodgepodge of weak studies show marginal aka placebo effect.”

          Continues here:
          https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/afterword-chiropractic-and-the-new-york-times-is-the-newspaper-trying-to-prove-trump-right/

          BTW, it’s worth noting that the guidelines also recommend acupuncture….
          http://edzardernst.com/2017/05/acupuncture-for-back-pain-an-open-letter-by-a-canadian-therapist/

          With regard to the UK’s NICE guidelines, they…

          QUOTE:

          …are something of a problem for osteopaths and chiropractors as their treatments are no longer first line choices and they are not well placed to offer a suitable [group] exercise programme. Some of them may opt to continue treating patients the way the always have and not take the NICE guidelines into account. However, that is a potentially risky strategy for two reasons:

          1. It doesn’t seem to be in the best interest of their patients
          2. They risk being found in breach of their ‘Practice Standards’ which could result in formal complaints to either the GOsC or GCC.”

          Ref: https://complementaryandalternative.wordpress.com/2016/12/06/nice-guidelines-for-low-back-pain-and-sciatica-a-clarification/

  • It’s interesting to note that in 1902 a disgruntled DD Palmer left Davenport suddenly for California, because it’s been recorded that he wanted to discard chiropractic in 1901:
    https://www.facebook.com/204610332906631/photos/a.349152545119075/2047167945317518/?type=3&theater

    Also see: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11613380

    Some additional, supporting comment here:

    QUOTE
    “In 1901 D. D. Palmer scuttled the Chiropractic ship; gave it up as a profession; left it in disgrace in Davenport. B. J. Palmer assumed the remnants, although ‘only a boy’—18 to be exact—took the scraps and debts left behind by the elder and reconstructed a business upon the ruins. Upon application, two years later, D. D. was taken into the successful business of B.J. Palmer. He returned penniless, in debt and goods mortgaged. B.J. gave half of all he had, paid his debts and cleaned the mortgage.”
    Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Talk%3ADaniel_David_Palmer%2FArchive_1

    The Lerner Report also seems to have some relevancy to this: https://chiro.org/Plus/History/Persons/LernerReport-chiro/lerner_report_word_update.pdf

    With regard to B.J. Palmer, he was ruthless businessman. A brief browse through this link https://www.chirobase.org/05RB/psc_catalog_1922.pdf is all you need in order to understand that he was an unsavoury character.

    In essence, it’s important to know the following about the man:

    In 1910, he testified that, at the age of 11, that he had been “kicked from home, forced to make a living” (State of Wisconsin vs. S.R. Jansheki, December 1910).

    He spent years as a vagrant, living largely by hustling on the streets, and slept in dry-goods boxes, hotel kitchens, pool halls, etc. He was permanently expelled from school in the 7th grade, did jail time for petty thievery, and was well-acquainted with the red-light district of town. (Magner, G. Chiropractic: The Victim’s Perspective).

    In the preface to one of BJ’s books, a dean of Palmer College wrote, “The first 20 years of this boy’s life were spent in being educated to hate people and everything they did or were connected with”. (Hender H. Preface. In Palmer BJ. The Bigness of the Fellow Within. Davenport. IA: Palmer School of Chiropractic, 1949)

    Indeed, R.C. Schafer DC, a former director of public affairs for the American Chiropractic Association, reported that as a self-proclaimed ‘keeper of the flame’ BJ was suffocating and ruthless to anyone who dared oppose him, and he remembered him as a bigot and an outlandishly vulgar person. Apparently it was common knowledge that BJ openly supported Hitler in the 1930s (Schafer RC. The imbroglio of the professional greyhound. Dynamic Chiropractic 9(17)10, 1991.) and, like his father, BJ was afflicted by megalomania.

    His book titles revealed an enormous ego and he made many sweeping pronouncements about the nature of health, disease and the human body. His ignorance and ego also combined to discover a ‘duct of Palmer connecting the spleen with the stomach’(https://tinyurl.com/y4kmfkgg ).

    During his pre-chiropractic years he worked with a mesmerist and in a circus – both of which may have honed his showmanship and salesmanship. From the beginning, BJ did everything possible to distance chiropractic from medicine and osteopathy. His views came to dominate the profession and he greatly expanded chiropractic’s metaphysical basis, which constituted a major part of chiropractic education. He described chiropractic as a ‘health serve-us’ (Palmer BJ. Selling Yourself. Davenport, IA: Palmer College Press, 1921)

    BJ also claimed “I do nothing. It is Innate that does the work’ (Bach, M The Chiropractic Sotr. Austell, GA: Si-Nel Publishing & Sales Co., 1968)

    On page 424 of his book ‘Answers’ (1952), BJ refers to Innate as the ‘other fellow’, or the ‘fellow within’, and the real originator of chiropractic. In the same book, he also asks – and answers – ‘What are the principal functions of the spine? To support the head, To support the ribs, To support the chiropractor’.

    And in his book, ‘The Bigness of the Fellow Within’ (1949), he states that “Innate…has been building and running millions of bodies for millions of years” and he exhorted all chiropractors to harness this divine power. He also states: “One spark of Innate is greater than all the education, books, and libraries of man”.

    Returning to DD Palmer and the question, “was his life that of a genius or that of a charlatan?”, I’d say that of a charlatan and also a decidedly unfit father.

    • Well, considering a charlatan is “a person who pretends to have skills or knowledge that they do not have…(Cambridge) the ramblings so far fall short of convincing.

      • Personally, I’m rather fond of Rose Shapiro’s ‘chancer’ description of DD Palmer (and Andrew Taylor Still – inventor of osteopathy). On p.132 of her book, ‘Suckers – How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools Of Us All’, Shapiro writes:

        QUOTE
        “Osteopathy and chiropractic were invented, or ‘discovered’ as their adherents prefer to say, by a pair of determined and charismatic Americans in the late nineteenth century…they had much in common. Both could be described as chancers and fantasists who had tried and failed to make their fortunes in a variety of jobs and get-rich-quick schemes.”

        In British slang, a chancer is a person who exploits any opportunity to further their own ends.

        • So what?

          The question was…was he a charlatan? Thus far no one has produced the evidence to conclude he was.

          • Cognitive dissonance raises its ugly head again.

          • Nah Frank…the dictionary raises its ugly head.

            Notice how BW changed from charlatan to chancer?

            Probably because he understood, based upon the definition, it would be very difficult to provide sufficient evidence to convict DD of being a charlatan. Chancer…much easier.

  • Your comments relate to statements made during the Era of Heroic Medicine. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroic_medicine. A period of time where accepted health care practices and procedures were much more riskier compared to non-pharmcological and surgical treatment compared to current Chiropractic practice for the management of spinal neuromuscular care. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heroic_medicine. WILL YOU BE ATTENDING SPINE 2020 IN APRIL 2020 MELBOURNE AUSTRALIA? You will read and hear what is current in the EBM world of chiropractic care as it relates to spinal corrective care(Subluxations)

  • @ME and DC, both of you (I assume) are “Doctors” of Coincidence? I would love to know WHAT it is that “you” and the other faux-doctors who chime in here are defending? Are you defending your egos, pecuniary-reward stream or your family’s legacy? Are you actually “defending” the philosophy of DD and Blow Job? Are you defending AK, drop-tables, SOT, leg checks, motion-palpation, adjusting guns, bone-cracking, subluxation or its surrogates??? Or are you simply defending the “rights” of the dumb and ill-considered to be able to freely buy placebos and entrepreneurial theatrics masquerading as healthcare from “licensed” frauds who accept insurance?…and don’t prescribe opioids?? And share their inconsequential testimonials on Facebook like Christians posting pictures of melted butter that resembles the Virgin Mary?
    Do you perhaps really believe there is an “innate” healer living within but trapped by spinal-segmental-dysfunction…Somehow enlivened by Chiroquackery “treatments”?? Please, if you have the stomach to be honest I for one (having lived and been immersed in the Chiroquacker-world for more than a decade and emerged out of it a scathing critic….as ANYONE with a conscience should) would love to hear WHY “you” appear so passionate about “it”.

  • You assume i come here to defend something.

    • You assume i come here to defend something.

      No need to assume the obvious.

      • Nah, people can attack chiropractic all they want, but it should be based upon proper interpretation of the facts/evidence. It’s when ones bias becomes so strong that they tend to have problems with proper interpretation. I may point out that problem from time to time, if one wishes to see that as defending something, I suppose I am defending proper interpretation of the facts/evidence.

  • @Nah: so I would reiterate the later portion of my query, 1. why are U so passionate about setting the record straight? And further WHY are you the arbiter of “knowing” what the PROPER interpretation of the evidence is? As opposed to those who may well have a bias arrived at after years of stationed and thorough evaluation of said “evidence”? I’ve yet to see where you or any other faux-doctor has contributed real research to, or PROPER interpretation of the over-arching problem of Chiroquackery i.e. “it’s” premise is untrue and it’s parameters are non-existent. I’m not seeing why you (obviously suggesting you harbor NO interpretive bias?) can countermand Dr Ernst and the numerous other well seasoned scientists who routinely interpret evidence differently than you.

  • And an excellent grasp on self-aggrandizement.

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