Remembering the Reconstruction Aides
via the American Physical Therapy Association web site
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) set a new record at the February 2018 Combined Sections Meeting, as over 17,000 attendees convened to learn, connect, and enhance their skills. APTA now has over 100,000 members across the country.
As we celebrate this milestone, we also commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first physical therapists in the United States, the reconstruction aides who were civilian employees of the Medical Department of the US Army during World War I. Marguerite Sanderson oversaw the first reconstruction aides, or "re-aides," in the newly created Division of Physical Reconstruction. Mary McMillan was appointed the first re-aide in February 1918 and organized the Physiotherapy Department at Walter Reed General Hospital. Of the original 18 Aides, 16 went on to form the American Women's Physical Therapeutic Association, which later became the American Physical Therapy Association with McMillan as president.
Here are some little-known facts about these pioneering women.
They may not have been in combat, but re-aides still had to fight against Victorian-era attitudes toward women.
One early battle was about a uniform of bloomers rather than impractical skirts. Spoiler alert: They lost. According to Mia Donner Jameson:
Miss Sanderson was ahead of her times but was not able to overcome some of the objections of the 'men on the Hill,' i.e., the Senators and Congressman. One of her aims was to get us 'uniformed' in bloomers instead of skirts which she thought would be more practical for the mud and rain we might encounter.
These women would be jealous of today's more functional work attire.
Because much of their treatment included massage, the re-aides faced some unique challenges providing care to male soldiers. In 1918, Sanderson delivered a speech titled "The Massage Problem," expressing her concern that doctors, nurses, and patients alike might construe therapeutic massage as "medically dubious" at best and illicit at worst. The re-aides sought to address this by requiring professional physiotherapy education, treating only those who were medically in need of care and "assuming command of drill and sporting events," in which the women played against recovering soldiers.
Read the entire article on the American Physical Therapy Association web site here:
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