As Women’s History Month is approaching its close, we would be remiss not to take a moment to shine a light on some of the brilliant women that have shaped and contributed to Chiropractic’s storied history.

Chiropractic Women during World War I


Pretty early on from the inception of Chiropractic in 1895 by D.D. Palmer, women were involved in significant numbers in the profession. Women, in fact, were among the first groups of chiropractic students and chiropractors because it offered them a path to a healthcare career that traditional medicine often restricted. Medical school rarely accepted women in those days, and women-only medical schools were few – not to mention lacking in professional respect. Seeking fairer wages and working conditions, women enrolled in early chiropractic school and apprenticeship programs in order to join an exciting profession. Two women were listed among the seven first graduates of Palmer School of Chiropractic (PSC), and the percentage of women at PSC floated between 20-50% of its class membership from 1895 to 1905.1


World War I marked a period of growth for the profession and for women, in particular, because with the war dividing attentions, chiropractors had more freedom to practice with less worry of the medical establishment’s oversight. With seats open at chiropractic schools while enlisted men prepared for war, it only made sense that most colleges made a push to encourage women to join their ranks. Targeted books and advertisements, such as Palmer’s Chiropractic for Women series, began to land in the hands of eager women as female enrollment numbers grew. After the war, however, women were encouraged to pursue chiropractic assistant roles to assist their husbands in practice rather than practice themselves. It was an unjust oversight, though a common one to push women out of positions of business leadership once the men returned from overseas. Today, Chiropractic still lags behind the traditional medical field in terms of percentage of female practitioners, yet that gap shrinks significantly year after year.2


Chiropractic Pioneer Women Throughout History


·      Dr. Mabel Heath Palmer- Regarded by many as the First Lady of Chiropractic, Mabel Heath Palmer is best known as the wife of B.J. Palmer, as well as a tour-de-force in her own right as a licensed D.C. and instructor at Palmer for over four decades. She attended Rush Medical College in Chicago, which gave her the knowledge to teach anatomy and dissection at Palmer. She was an active civic leader for many notable groups.3

·      Dr. Nell K. Williams- Life University’s (Life U) First Lady, Dr. Nell K. Williams made a significant impact in her own right. She not only supported her husband Dr. Sid E. Williams’ in running Life U, but she was a staple in the metro Atlanta community and a staunch advocate for the chiropractic profession. She was a member of numerous city and chiropractic organizations and was honored with multiple awards for her service. These awards included:

       “Woman of Achievement Award:” Presented to Dr. Nell by the Fulton/DeKalb Chapter of the Business & Professional Women inn 1978-79 in recognition of her outstanding community efforts.

       “Distinguished Fellow of the International Chiropractors Association Award:” Presented to Dr. Nell in 1980 for her outstanding service to this international organization.

        “Woman Chiropractor of the Year Award:” Presented to Dr. Nell by her alma mater, Palmer College of Chiropractic, in 1981 in recognition of her extraordinary contributions to her profession.

       “Woman of the Decade Award:” Presented to Dr. Nell by the International Chiropractors Association for her lifelong dedication to the organization and the chiropractic profession.

       ‘WALL OF TOLERANCE AWARD:” Presented to Dr. Nell by the National Campaign for Tolerance signed by Rosa Parks.

She served as Senior Vice President and Dean of Student Affairs for Life University until she retired in 2002. Dr. Nell was married to Dr. Sid E. Williams for more than 60 years. Their two children, Dr. Kimbrough Williams and Dr. John Sidney Williams, are both graduates of Life University. Life University’s state-of-the-art library is called the Drs. Sid E. & Nell K. Williams Library in honor of Life U’s patriarch and matriarch.

·      Dr. Minora Paxson- After earning her D.C. degree at D.D. Palmer’s Chiropractic School and Cure in 1903, Dr. Paxson is reported as the first chiropractor to obtain a license under the Illinois Medical Practice Act, which regulated drugless healthcare providers.3

·       Dr. Sylva Ashworth- Fighting the good fight, Dr. Ashworth championed Chiropractic as a founder of the Universal Chiropractors’ Association (UCA) — now known as the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) — which had been formed to defend chiropractors from legal prosecution.3

·      Dr. Alma Arnold – After graduating from the first class of Langsworthy’s American School of Chiropractic & Nature Cure in Iowa in 1903, Dr. Arnold was the first chiropractor to practice in New York and possibly the first woman president of a chiropractic college. She treated one of the profession’s first celebrity patients, Clara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross, from 1909-1912. Arnold wrote one of the earliest health books for patients by a chiropractor, published in 1918. Triangle of Health reflected on the natural health movement with insight into spinal manipulation, hygiene and diet still relevant today. She was also among the first women to do jail time for the profession in 1911 and 1913.4

·      Dr. Appa Anderson- Dr. Anderson’s main claim to fame is as the first female chiropractic radiologist. Appa Anderson’s first professional experience with radiology was in service through the Women’s Auxiliary of the Army Medical Corps as a radiographer in Colorado from 1944-1946. Afterward, she obtained her Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Western States Chiropractic College in 1949. In addition to operating a private radiology practice in Oregon, she taught at Western States for 40 years, even creating a radiology residency program, modeled after the two-year course developed by the National University of Health Sciences. She would remain the only female chiropractic radiologist until 1980.4


The Future of Life U’s Chiropractic Women


Some say the future is female. Whether or not that’s true, the future is certainly bright for our upcoming chiropractic women. According to the Life University Fall 2023 Factbook, 50 percent of our burgeoning chiropractic class is made up of women.  Life University also offers many clubs dedicated to community and equity for female chiropractors, including Alpha Delta Upsilon, Women’s Chiropractic club and League of Chiropractic Women. It’s beyond encouraging to see experienced chiropractic women networking with and supporting the next generation of female chiropractors, blazing new trails and making their own history.


Sources used:


1.     D. D. Palmer and B. J. Palmer, The Science of Chiropractic: Its Principles and Adjustments (Davenport, IA: Palmer School of Chiropractic, 1906)

2.     Howell, M. R. (2018, November 27). Truly ambitious women: Women chiropractors and World War I. Nursing Clio. 

3.     Tisinger, S. (2022, May 12). Women’s History Month: Mabel Palmer, D.C. Palmer College of Chiropractic. 

4.     Team, N. (2023, May 17). Celebrating women’s history month: 5 women who helped Shape Chiropractic Medicine. National University Of Health Sciences. 

5.     Life University Factbook.