Go to Jail for Chiropractic!

[originally published in KCN, November 2000]

Please Let Me OutI got a call a few months ago at the office from an official-sounding woman proclaiming that she had a warrant for my arrest!  I was to be thrown in jail!  Visions of being dragged down to our overcrowded hoosegow filled my head.  A moment of fear set in. Who would treat my patients?  Who would take care of my family?

Before I could figure out how I’d post bail, the woman’s voice softened and I quickly learned that the “arrest” was actually part of a creative fund raising effort to help fight muscular dystrophy.  Apparently I had been charged with “having a big heart.”  What a relief!

As we embark upon the Thanksgiving Holiday Season, I can honestly say  that I am thankful that I wasn’t actually arrested.  More importantly, however, I am thankful for my chiropractic predecessors who were.

While many people are aware that we chiropractors have been fighting uphill battles with the Paramount Powers of Mainstream Medicine since day one, most people are unaware that often meant going to jail on behalf of our profession during the first half of the twentieth century.


Dr. Herbert Ross Reaver, known as “The Most Jailed Chiropractor” in the profession’s long struggle for licensure.

It all really began in the early 1900’s — a case of big time philanthropy gone sour.  In an effort to help improve the standards of medical education and its emphasis on science, the Carnegie Foundation in 1909 commissioned Abraham Flexner to visit medical schools and write a report on the status of medical education in the United States and Canada.  The report found that many of the schools were substandard.  It stressed the need to link medical schools with universities and heavily emphasized the need for scientific research and the application of the “fruits” of this research to medical practice.  In addition, it proclaimed the biological sciences as the knowledge base for the practice of medicine.  Apparently, the report was so attractively presented, that the Rockefeller Foundation decided to jump aboard to help bring about its implementation through the funding of additional grants.

Up to this point the plan seems like a great public service.  Unfortunately, this is where it sours.  Under the Rockefeller’s tax-exempt General Education Board, three basic goals were mapped out regarding foundation assistance to education.  As you may be guessing, these goals were not about raising the level of education at all, but rather using education as a means of accomplishing something that was not as saintly: (1) preserving the wealthy donor’s vast family fortune from inheritance and other taxation, (2) using education to change society and mold the attitude of the unsuspecting public to accept foundation leadership and direction, and (3) using foundation money under the guise of public good to fund lucrative commercial and ideological ventures with their own tax-exempt dollars with philanthropy as a cover.

With the Flexner Report in hand, a healthy nod from the American Medical Association (AMA) and its close partner, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), along with the financial backing of Carnegie and Rockefeller, medical education reform was in full swing.  One author, a medical doctor, stated that the combination of the monies from the Rockefeller Foundation  and the influence of the AMA and AAMC virtually gave birth to  the strongest professional monopoly in the United States:  Organized Medicine.

With the creation of such a strong monopoly, there was no effective opposition to the implementation of the reforms recommended in the Flexner Report.  Consequently, not only was Organized Medicine able to “clean up” and improve their own schools, they were also able to shut down their competition by closing schools of the other healing arts — which included chiropractic schools.  Of course this was all done in the name of “public safety.”


Chiropractor, Dr. Mildred Creveling in the Ohio’s Mahoning County Jail for “practicing medicine without a license.” – Circa 1930

It’s not that chiropractors didn’t want to improve their educational and professional standards — they tried —  but their efforts were always thwarted.  One notable area was that of state licensure.  Given the power that Organized Medicine had garnered, they now held the cards for governing all health professions.  So it should come as no surprise that they strenuously fought every effort by chiropractors to obtain licensure.  Consequently, chiropractic in most states fell under the jurisdiction of the medical laws.  So, what did this mean to a practicing chiropractor in these states?  Well, according to Organized Medicine, he’d be practicing medicine without a license — a crime punishable by fine or imprisonment.

Throughout the entire United States, for pretty much the first half of the 1900’s, chiropractors were arrested and often jailed for the detestable “crime” of practicing chiropractic.  In an essay written by a chiropractic pioneer who spent 84 days in jail:

“It was in 1923 that the Ohio State Medical Board declared war on the chiropractors in this state and planned to exterminate us by arrest and harassment.  We were easily convicted by a law that stated that chiropractic was one of the branches of medicine and surgery.  The laymen were not aware of the contents of this law, which stated that a person convicted under this law could be fined $25-500, a portion of which would be sent to the medical board to help carry on the warfare against us.  So, if a chiropractor was found guilty and decided to pay the fine, he would not only be digging his own grave, but paying his own funeral at the same time.”

It certainly goes without saying that practicing chiropractors of this day were a special breed.  Not only did these chiropractors have to firmly believe that what they were doing was important enough to technically put themselves in conflict with the law, but they had to be willing to accept the consequences when the police showed up at the office door.

While most chiropractors simply paid their fines and were back in the office seeing patients later in the afternoon, many decided that simply paying their fines was in essence a plea of guilt and instead chose to stand up for their belief in their profession.

As per Bill King, DC... The picture above is outside the Cincinnati, Ohio jail, 1946. Dr. herb Reaver was arrested for practicing Chiropractic without a liscense. He was serving a 6 mos. jail term. The cute little boy in the front is me, Bill King, 1963 Palmer graduate, Delt brother. My mother is to the right of the lady with the sign, light colored coat. Millie Reaver is right of her, dark coat. My mother was instrumental in organizing Dr. Reaver's patients to show support and protest his being in jail.

Patients protest outside the Ohio jail where their doctor, Herbert R. Reaver, D.C., was imprisoned. (ca. 1946)

“Go to jail for chiropractic!” became a popular slogan amongst the chiropractic community.  This chiropractic martyrdom captured the hearts of the press and the public at large.  Crowds of up to 1200 people were said to have gathered to voice their outrage at  the senselessness of these arrests.  Over 100,000 pieces of mail poured into one prison regarding  the arrest of a husband and wife chiropractic team who were forced to say goodbye to  their twin 3-year-old girls at the jail door  for their 100-day sentence.

In a letter drafted while behind bars, one chiropractor wrote in a letter to a friend, “Being here is sometimes like a bad dream.  And when you think of it being for nothing but doing good, it makes it twice as hard to take.”


Dr. Fred Courtney, one of many jailed chiropractors for “Practicing Medicine Without a License” — Los Angeles, California. Circa 1921

In California — one of the more intensely policed states — it was rumored that at one time, the Los Angeles County Sheriff office had more confiscated chiropractic adjusting tables in its possession than all the chiropractors in the state.

Legend also held that the policy of the California State Medical Board was that at least one chiropractor should be kept in jail in each county at all times to set an example.  Ironically, most of the incarcerated chiropractors opened up “practices” right there in their jail cells — continuing to commit the very crime they were locked up for in the first place.  These chiropractors were not only treating their fellow prison mates, but the guards as well!  Some even went on to make political statements by adjusting their regular patients from the jails.

It wasn’t long before the people of California were able to bypass the legislative process and obtain chiropractic licensure  by public vote in 1922.  All other states  over the next 50 years were able to do the same in one way or another.  [Louisiana, in 1974, was the last state to license chiropractors].

Today, even though chiropractors enjoy licensure in all 50 states, not all parts of the world can say the same.  As little as three years ago [1997], a newspaper story told of an arrest and jailing of a Thailand chiropractor for “practicing medicine without a license.”  As unfair as this sounds, history has shown, that we chiropractors will not be stopped.  We certainly stand on the shoulders of giants in this profession, for without whom we would not be where we are today — for them I am thankful.  More importantly, though, we would not be where we are today without the dedicated following and loyalty of our patients.  Patients that can see the truth through the fabricated lies that are set before them — and for them, I am truly thankful.  Happy Thanksgiving.


1) I found this “gift” of a video on PlanetChiropractic.com featuring our profession’s most jailed chiropractor, Herbert Ross Reaver, D.C. (pictured in the article above) speaking to a group of chiropractic students in 1998, just two years before his death.
More from PlanetChiropractic:
Dr. Herbert Ross Reaver, chiropractor, was known as the “most jailed chiropractor” of the 1900s. He attended Palmer chiropractic College in Davenport, Iowa in 1926. He practiced chiropractic for more than 70 years. He passed away on February 7, 2000.
Reaver was reportedly once beaten with two by fours for providing chiropractic care to “dark skinned” baseball players.
He was despised by the medical community for doing what he did best, “getting sick people well, and keeping the well from getting sick.”
Watch for more videos featuring this legendary chiropractor. You can also read about him and listen to audio presentations at http://www.planetc1.com.
Video was filmed in Orange County, California, in 1998.
2) The American Chiropractic Association has produced a series of short video documentaries highlighting some of chiropractic’s past and present struggles.  This video (2006) does a good job of talking about the historic jailing of chiropractors.  It is well-done and worth the 9 minutes.  From the ACA’s website:
Doctors of chiropractic have suffered a long history of abuse at the hands of the medical establishment, from the early days when they were literally thrown into jail for “practicing medicine without a license” to efforts by today’s insurance companies to create barriers to fair reimbursement of chiropractic services. “Simple Justice” tells this compelling story and offers hope for the future thanks to monumental lawsuits that are currently being waged in federal court. The film is narrated by Dr. Carl Cleveland III, president of Cleveland Chiropractic College, who as a child watched his parents-both doctors of chiropractic-live through the sometimes-frightening dramas that the profession endured in the early part of the 20th century.
3) I also stumbled across this interesting chiropractic jailing twist:
4) Found this interesting anecdote on Facebook (12/03/13): Peter Lawrence My dad graduated in 1949 and Chiropractic was not legally recognized in NY State until 1963. He told me that in those days they would send around inspectors posing as patients to arrest you, so the chiropractors had a telephone system that they would call the person on the telephone chain to warn everyone else what the investigators looked like that day. It was a cohesive group in those days…..funny thing how the survival instinct would kick in…..why is it that our profession seems to have lost the survival instinct these days?


Sources used for this article:
Carter.  Racketeering in Medicine:  The suppression of alternatives. Hampton Roads.  Norfolk, VA.  1993.
From Simple Beginnings. (video)  The Chiropractic Centennial Foundation. 1995.
A Moment of Silence for Herbert Reaver, D.C. Dynamic Chiropractic.  18 (6).  2000.
Peterson.  Chiropractic:  An illustrated history.  Mosby.  St. Louis, 1995.
Our Heritage.  (Letters to the Editor). Dynamic Chiropractic.  11 (25).  1993.
Quiet Heroes. Dynamic Chiropractic. 15 (20).  1997.
Wardwell.  Chiropractic:  History and evolution of a new profession.  Mosby.  St. Louis, 1992.
Watkins.  Arrested in Thailand for “Practicing Medicine without a License”:  Police later receive adjustments at the station! Dynamic Chiropractic. 15(18).  1997.
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