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Chiropractic and the 1918 Flu Epidemic

In 1895 the chiropractic profession started in Davenport, Iowa.  It quickly grew throughout the country and was used a treatment for disease, not necessarily for the treatment of neck or back pain.  But by 20 years after its beginning, chiropractic was almost extinct due to the tremendous opposition from the medical profession.  Chiropractic experienced a great resurgence during the flu epidemic of 1918.  This was due to chiropractic's ability to strengthen the immune system.  

The following is an article from ChiroUnity April 27, 2009. 

"The 1918 flu epidemic swept silently across the world bringing death and fear to homes in every land.  More than one hundred million people died.  In 1918 almost nothing was known about prevention, protection, treatment or cure of influenza.  The whole world stood at its mercy, or lack of it.

Strangely enough, around that same time, chiropractic, the only American born health care profession, was close to extinction only 23 years after its discovery.  In the time just after the end of World War I, laws against slander were so lenient that medical doctors were allowed to openly attack the chiropractic profession without any regard to truth, legality or the best interest of the patients.

Because medical doctors were making it so hard to have a practice, chiropractors were making mostly house calls.  In 1918, chiropractors in Wisconsin began going door-to-door adjusting anyone who had the Flu. 

 As a result, an amazing thing occurred.  Those who were adjusted by a chiropractor didn't die.

The news about Chiropractic swept across Wisconsin and eventually the whole country.  Within a short period of time, chiropractic became so well known as the best defense against the flu that chiropractors were being called "Flu Doctors."

Out of this epidemic, the young science of chiropractic enjoyed a new measure of enthusiasm and respectability.  If there had been any lack of enthusiasm among doctors of chiropractic, or a depleting of the sources of new students, the epidemic took care of that.  These chiropractic survivors of the flu epidemic were confident, assured determined, and ready to fight any battle that came up.  The effect of the epidemic becomes evident in interviews made with old-timers practicing in those years.  The refrain comes repeatedly, "I was about to go out of business when the flu epidemic came - but when it was over, I was firmly established in practice."


The answer is reasonably simple.  Chiropractors got fantastic results from influenza patients while those under medical care died.  Statistics reflect a most amazing, almost miraculous state of affairs.  The medical profession was practically helpless with the flu victims but chiropractors seemed able to do no wrong.

In Davenport, Iowa 50 medical doctors treated 4,953 cases, with 274 deaths.  In the same city, 150 chiropractors including students and faculty of the Palmer School of chiropractic treated 1,635 cases with only one death.

In the state of Iowa, medical doctors treated 93,590 patients, with  6,116 deaths - a loss of one patient out of every 15.  In the same state, excluding Davenport, 4,735 patients were treated by chiropractors with a loss of only 6 cases - a loss of one patient out of every 789.

National figures show that 1,142 chiropractors treated 46,394 patients for influenza during 1918, with a loss of 54 patients - one out of every 886.

In the same epidemic, New York health authorities (who kept records of flu as a reportable disease) showed that under chiropractic care, only 25 patients died of influenza out of every 10,000 cases; and only 100 patients died of pneumonia out of every 10,000 cases.  This comparison is made more striking when viewed in the following table:


                                              Cases                 Deaths

Under Medical Care              10,000                    950

Under Chiropractic Care        10,000                     25


Under Medical Care                10,000               6,400

Under Chiropractic Care         10,000                   100

The same epidemic reports show that chiropractors in Oklahoma treated 3,490 cases of influenza with only 7 deaths.  But the best part of this is in Oklahoma there is a clear record showing that chiropractors were called in 233 cases where medical doctors had cared for the patients, and finally gave them up as lost.  The chiropractors saved all these lost cases but 25.

Dr. M.L. Stanphill [DC] recounts his experiences: "I had quite a bit of practice in 1918 when the flu broke out.  I stayed in Van Alstyne (Texas) until the flu was over and had the greatest success, taking many cases that had been given up and restoring them back to health.  During the flu we didn't have the automobile.  I went horseback and drove  a buggy day and night.  I stayed overnight when the patients were real bad.  When the rain and snow came I just stayed it out.  There wasn't a member of my family that had the flu." 

When he came to Denison, he said, "I had a lot of trouble with pneumonia when I first came.  Once again I took all the cases that had been given up.  C.R. Crabetree, who lived about 18 miles west of Denison, had double pneumonia and I went and stayed all night with him and until he came to the next morning.  He is still living today.  That gave me a boost on the west side of town."

And when interviews of other old timers are made it is evident that each still vividly remember the 1918 influenza epidemic.  We now know about 100 million persons around the world died of the flu with about 500,000 American among that number.  But most chiropractors and their patients were miraculously spared.  Even today, we repeatedly hear about those decisions to become a chiropractor after a remarkable recovery or when a close family member given up for dead suddenly came back to vibrant health.

Some of these heroic chiropractors who served faithfully during the 1918 crisis went on to become the major characters thrust upon the profession's stage in the 20's and 30's and they had the courage, the background and the conviction to withstand all that would shortly be thrown against them [including being thrown in jail for practicing medicine without a license].  The publicity and reputation of such effectiveness in handling flu cases also brought new patients and much acclaim from people who knew nothing of chiropractic before 1918.

Chiropractic's journey into health care took a huge leap forward thanks to its incredible effect on thousands of Americans during the flu crisis.  When you get adjusted, you increase immune function, among many other benefits.  An increase in immune function is important for everything from the cold and runny nose to influenza, cancer, and heart disease, not to mention the great enhancing effects on a healthy individual.  This is why everyone should have their spine checked and adjusted as needed.  Adjustments may  stimulate your immune system to better fight off any challenge, including influenza.

Remember, regular visits to your chiropractor will assure that your body is always operating at 100% of your optimal health potential.  And that is good news."


1. Rhodes WR: "The Official History of Chiropractic in Texas." Texas Chiropractic Association. Austin, TX. 1978

2. Kent C: "Neuroimmunology - an update. "The Chiropractic Journal. August, 2001.

3. Kent C:"Neuroimmunology and chiropractic." The Chiropractic Journal. October, 1995. 

4. Kent C: "The mental impulse-biochemical and immunologic aspects." The Chiropractic Journal. February, 1999.

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