Providing Healing and Promoting Hope is the theme of this year’s Women’s History Month.
Physical Therapy is a career that embodies this theme to its core – it should be the theme of the profession. The modern-day field of physical therapy was led by women primarily – these women were assigned to a group called Reconstruction Aides. Reconstruction Aides were citizens who worked to assist in the physical rehabilitation of those injured in war. One woman, in particular, is considered the founding Mother and pioneer of Physical Therapy as we know it today; her name was Mary McMillian.
On February 23, 1918, Mary McMillian, the first physical therapist in this country, was assigned to the Reconstruction Aide program by the surgeon general. Mary was American by birth but was educated in England and worked there with an Orthopedic surgeon at a military base hospital. Working there made her ideally suited to be assigned to be a Reconstruction Aide and in March became the head of the Reconstruction Aides after returning to the states. She transitioned into teaching and served as the director of Reed College, which was responsible for educating future Rehabilitation Aides. Mary went on to write a book called Massage and Therapeutic Exercise, the first book in the United States published by a physical therapist. Later she was appointed to the Superintendent of the Reconstruction Aides in Physical Therapy, Medical Department at Large, Office of the Surgeon General. Ultimately after leaving this post, she joined an orthopedic surgeon and developed the graduate programs for physical therapists offered through the Harvard Graduate Medical School. She later became the first president of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).