B.J. Palmer, Chiropractor


F.F. Farnsworth
January 2, 1921

Being in Washington, D. C., and learning that ·B.J. Palmer, discoverer, inventor and founder of the Chiropractic method of spinal adjustment, was lecturing at the Raleigh hotel, I went to hear him. My object was partly to satisfy myself as to the real teachings of the ” fountain head,” supplemented by a curiosity as to what he actually looked like. I, of course, felt a certain amount of prejudice against him but was prepared to give him the, benefit of whatever argument he could produce, and credit for any facts he might establish.

His personal appearance and acts disappointed me. I supposed he would at least appear as a scholar and a man of dignity, but I found him garbed as a showman and with the unshaved face and long black hair of the seer or prophet for which he doubtless aimed to pose. I expected at least, a dignified explanation of some scientific facts to prove his contentions, but found him railing and ranting and even abusing the medical profession and everybody and everything else except his own creed. I will, therefore, for the purpose. of better analysis, take up some of his statements exactly as he made them and as written down by me at the time.

”All diseases which have been in existence since the building of the pyramids are still in existence, not a single progressive step has ever been taken to cure or check them.” “More disease exists now than ever before, more in proportion are dying until actually today more people are dying than are being born.” Of course, these statements are so flagrantly untrue that a sensible person can hardly have patience to answer them. He overlooks the fact that yellow fever is a matter of history, malaria almost so, and leprosy now being controlled and cured; he has forgotten that where smallpox and typhoid once claimed their hundreds of thousands, they now claim only their dozens. He overlooks the fact that the average length of life has been increased ten years, and gives the lie .to all governrnent records and statistics. He probably does not know that during the year 1854 there died in the city of Philadelphia 89 out of every 1,000 of her population and that by medical and sanitary measures this mortality has been decreased year·by year until last year there died in the city of Philadelphia only 14½ out of every 1,000 population, and this year it will be even better than that. What is true of Philadelphia is relatively true of other cities.

His next statements were: ”All medical methods and works are entirely wrong.” “I don’t know anything about anatomy. I never dissected a body. The ‘only reason for anatomy is to have an excuse for dissection, and the only reason for dissection is to know how to do surgery.” He then entered into a long abuse of surgeons, saying he knew nothing about surgery and was proud of it. He said: “Laboratories are fakes. No disease was ever diagnosed in a laboratory. They make the man fit the thing they want to call disease.: ‘There is no such thing as bacteriology, Microscopes are instruments of duplicity. How can they see germs when they do not exist? Pathology is only physiology gone wrong and they, they, the doctors, can’t help it.” He went on to say: “There has never been a single germ discovered that has ever caused a single disease.” “Chemistry is not worth a damn, it is of no value. I would not give a cent for all the chemistry in the world. I don’t know a solitary thing about chemistry and if I did I would forget it and wash it out.”

All the above statements are very remarkable, at least, when coming from a man who vehemently declared that he knew nothing about any of them. His next statement was: ” Diagnosis is all guess work.” “My analysis is better than uranalysis.” “The laboratory works with the dead and finds just what he wants to.” “If you follow books you won’t get very far. I don’t read books. Books are ‘written for people who don’t  think and are written ·by people who don’t or can’t think. I sometimes write books. I never saw or heard of an English scholar who wrote anything worth reading.” “I don’t know anything about grammar and have just sense enough to know 1t.” “Books tell us that germs cause disease, and that we could not live an instant with a single germ in us.” At this stage he vilified doctors, scholars, scientists, etc., for a while and then said, ” I am right and you being wrong don’t know it. There is no such disease as cancer or tuberculosis. The doctors say there are 25,000 diseases. It is so. There are only two—plus and minus.. ” Here ·he explained what he meant by plus and minus, ‘but as I am a doctor and know something about the  English language and mathematics and several other things of which he said he was entirely ignorant, of course, I had no conception of what he meant. I did, however, have sense enough to write down what he said next and here it is:

“Nothing in medicine is sticking tight. It is changing every year. We chiropractors have not made a single change in a finding or deduction for 25 years. Subluxation—Books say it can’t be done. Doctors say it can’t be done, they know nothing except what they read in books. We chiropractors began to study and found out. Tell me where you are affected and I will tell you what nerve causes it and all about it. We found out these things and then worked out a system of adjustment, so if a fellow has anything wrong with him we just put him on a table and adjust him. Books tell something about a sympathetic nervous system and a lot of rot like that. They got it all in a laboratory. The doctor spends years in college and learns a million things and not one of them is so. I never went to college; I don’t know anything about what’s in books. I only know that we adjust backbones and it works. I guess it must be so. I don’t know anything except that we get results. I just know it works and we get pay for it. I don’t know anything about the nervous system.”

He at this point entered into a long abuse of books of every kind and ended up by saying that doctors blamed all diseases on the solar plexus, but ‘he didn’t know what that was, but he was about to discover a nervous system of bis own. He claimed that backbone adjustment would straighten bowed legs, untie a loop in the bowels, reduce a strangulated hernia, and bring back to life withered muscles and dead nerves, and then dramatically exclaimed, “Why should I know anything about chemistry or toxicology to cure them, I use only adjustments.” Ile later admitted that he got ptomaine poisoning by eating infected oysters, but said his stomach had sense enough to “throw them up.”

He then said, ” Adjustments make childbirth as easy as a nice clean movement of the bowels instead or 72 hours of excruciating pain, tears, lacerations, and often death; spinal adjustments make it like a pleasant dream.” Ile then took a few minutes in trying to play upon the feelings and sympathies of the women present, holding out the hope of painless childbirth to them, whereas the doctor would grab the baby with a pair of iron tongs and “jerk” it out. Of course, all this stuff needs no comment.

Then he weakened his own argument against germs by saying that doctors had apparently proven that tuberculosis is caused by a. germ, but admonished the chiropractors present that they must never admit this because if they did they would have to do something to kill the germs, whereas they must cure it by spinal adjustment which does not kill germs. After abusing chemistry, he made the astounding statement, “Everything in chiropractic is a chemical proposition;” but ended by saying, “Laboratories are not worth a goldarn.”

At the end of this lecture it was evident that a large part of his audience was not in sympathy with him, but I could see how he might under the influence of home surroundings in Davenport where he could be more at ease and bring to bear on the new students the air and provincial impressions of being the real thing, impress them as being a great man, propounding a new and great truth, and bring them very quickly to believe in him.

I managed to overhear some expressions of the chiropractors present who used such terms as “Aint he wonderful,” “I wish I knew half as much as he does,” etc. As for myself, I was undecided whether he was a rank fake and knew it, or whether he actually believed that all medicine was a lie, as he said it was, and had faith that he could establish another system with equal success. So l determined to attend his next lecture for further “work and instruction.”

In the next lecture I made very little attempt to take notes for ‘he spent a full hour in a vitriolic attack on the medical profession. He called them about everything that was vile and mean. He laid all crime of every description at the door of medicine; social disorder and governmental disturbances was all the work of their devilish duplicity. They reveled in social diseases and gloried in filth and dissipation. He did pause long enough to accuse the ministers of the gospel of being equally guilty and sneeringly referred to God Almighty as being an aid and abettor in their vile schemes.

To my surprise, he admitted that doctors and sanitary engineers ‘have banished yellow fever from the Panama Canal Zone by draining out some swamps and pouring oil on others so that mosquitoes could not live, but said that God should have had gumption enough to put oil under the surface down there and made a hole in the ground so it could spout up itself, so as to save the expense of: hauling it from Pennsylvania.

He made great fun of doctors’ fight on flies, but finally admitted them to be a nuisance, but said that God ought to have been smart enough to have placed a doctor in the ark to swat the two lone flies who survived the flood. He wound up that it would have been cheaper· to have transported a shipload of chiropractors to Panama to adjust spines than to go to all the expense of doctors; sanitary engineers, and wasting so much good oil. He forgot, of course, to say that it would also have saved the lives of several billion mosquitoes for further usefulness.

At the end of this lecture I had found out all I cared to know about the man. Applying the classification of my friend, Dr. Brown of Shenandoah Junction, I at first decided he was on1y a “common liar,” but upon more mature deliberation I rather felt inclined to honor him with the more distinguished title of “an expert liar;” but my conscience would not permit me to let him off so easy for it was plain that he was a “damn liar.” However, to give him all credit due, I will just say he is” a common, expert, damned liar.” As egotistic as a Chinese God and as ignorant as an African cannibal.


Dr. Farnsworth practiced in Charleston, West Virginia. This article was originally published in January 1921 in The West Virginia Medical Journal.