Portland’s Role in Chiropractic History

Chiropractic is a 116 year old profession and in that time it has grown to become one of the largest independent healthcare professions in the Western world. Since Palmer College opened, chiropractic has developed rapidly and there are now over 35 schools and colleges around the world and on every continent.

A little known fact about the history of chiropractic is that when its founder, Daniel D. Palmer, came west from Iowa shortly after founding the first chiropractic college in 1897, he chose Portland as his destination.

Daniel D. Palmer (commonly referred to as D.D.) performed the first chiropractic adjustment in September of 1895 and started Palmer College in 1897 in Davenport, Iowa.  The college and the popularity of chiropractic grew rapidly in the tri-cities area in their first decade.  Palmer College went from a few students in its first graduating class of 1902, to 400 graduates in 1911.  Palmer College of Chiropractic today remains the pre-eminent chiropractic institution in the world reaching an enrollment of 1,800 students in 1995.

The Oregonian Building no longer stands, but smaller annex on the south side (right) remains.

D.D.’s son Bartlett Joshua Palmer (commonly referred to as “B.J.”) was one of the four 1902 graduates. In 1902, D.D. traveled to Santa Barbara, California and founded a second chiropractic college with the assistance of former Palmer students Oakley Smith and Minora Paxson.  Upon return to Davenport, he and his son established an equal partnership in the Palmer school and clinic.

In March of 1906, D.D. was convicted of practicing medicine without a license.  After serving twenty three days in the Scott County jail, he paid a $500 fine and was released.  On April 30, 1906, B.J. and D.D. signed an agreement in which B.J. purchased D.D.’s half of the school for $2,196.  This ended D.D.’s direct obligation to the Palmer College, and in 1907, he headed west.  His first stop was in Medford, Oklahoma, where his brother Thomas was the publisher of the local newspaper.  Palmer started his third school in partnership with Alva Gregory, a recent graduate from the Carver College of Chiropractic.  This association lasted only three months before D.D. moved to Oklahoma City and established the fourth Palmer College.  D.D. made his first visit to Portland in the summer of 1908.  The school in Oklahoma City did not last long, and in November 1908, D.D. returned to Portland to start the D.D. Palmer College of Chiropractic. Palmer was its president and John LaValley, a graduate of the original Palmer School in Iowa, soon became his partner.  By 1909, the school had moved from the Oregonian Building to the fourth floor of the Drexel Building at Southwest Second Avenue and Yamhill.

The Drexel Building SW 2nd and Yamhill (circa 1910). The fourth floor was the home of Pacific College of Chiropractic, the forerunner of Western States Chiropractic College.

Palmer initially proposed an eighteen month curriculum including dissection, minor surgery, and obstetrics for a yearly tuition of $250.  After the graduation of the first class, D.D. left Oregon and the college he founded would, under the direction of LaValley, eventually merge with Oregon’s first chiropractic school, Oregon Peerless College of Chiropractic–Naturopathy which was founded in 1904.  The new school’s name would be Pacific College of Chiropractic, the forerunner to Western States Chiropractic College.

While in Portland, D.D. spent much time and effort compiling an anthology of prior writings.  He lectured extensively after the publication of his Textbook of the Science, Art & Philosophy of Chiropractic, also known as the “Green Book,” a classic for the chiropractic profession.

Very little is known about D.D. Palmer’s activities after he left Portland.  In the spring of 1911, D.D. and his wife Mary moved to Los Angeles where he continued to write and lecture, primarily at Ratledge College of Chiropractic.  D.D. Palmer died (at 68 from typhoid fever) on October 20, 1913.

REFERENCES:  1) Modern Developments in the Principles and Practice of Chiropractic, Scott Haldeman, M.D. D.C., 1980.  2) Chiropractic, an Illustrated History, Dennis Peterson, M.A., & Glenda Wiese, M.A.1995.

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