Women’s History Month: These are 5 Women Physical Therapists You Need to Know About

Did you know that March is Women’s History Month? This month we’ll be taking a look at all of the incredible women who helped propel the knowledge and understanding of the human body as it is understood through physical therapy. Check out these 5 incredible women who helped to move and shake the world through their incredible breakthroughs and efforts.


1) Mary McMillan

Known as the Mother of Physical Therapy, Mary McMillan, was a trailblazer who had an incredibly positive and profound impact on the medical world. Originally a wartime nurse, she trained in Europe to learn the latest techniques of massage and physical therapy. Thanks to this knowledge, Mary was able to treat children in the United States who were suffering from polio. Thanks to Mary’s infectious passion for health and knowledge, she was able to inspire and train many other women who had similar interests as her. Without Mary McMillan, we may not have physical therapy as we know it in the US today. Some of her most notable efforts are:

  1. Formed a national organization
  2. Created a standardization process for PT
  3. Adapted scientific processes of PT to civilian life
  4. Raised the standards of PT in clinics and general hospitals


2) Florence Kendall

Florence Kendall dedicated nearly 70 years of her life to physical therapy. She spent her years also treating victims of polio in Maryland hospitals. Florence served on the Maryland State Board of Physical Therapy Examiners as the Secretary, member, and consultant. Additionally, she also taught at the University of Maryland School of Medicine as a Biomechanics instructor and at the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins. Florence Kendall played a major role in drafting the original bill that was enacted into law in 1947, legally establishing the practice of physical therapy in Maryland. Florence Kendall taught all women who were interested in pursuing a career in physical therapy that it was possible to be a good wife, mother, community leader, and PT.

3) Helen Hislop

Helen Hislop is best known for creating incredible original literature pertaining to physical therapy. A visionary, leader, and educator, she used her career to help push forward education for those pursuing PT.  In 1993, Dr. Helen Hislop introduced the concept of Biokinesiology, which studies the interplay between molecular and cell biology of muscles, bones, and joints and how that influences the mechanical and behavioral aspects of movement. She recognized early on that physical therapists would never be better than “mental pickpockets” without their own doctoral programs and clinical specialists. Physical therapists today still use her knowledge, learnings, and leadership to continue to gain a better understanding of the human body and movement.

4) Enid Gordon Graham

Enid Gordon Graham believed that physiotherapy would bring positive benefits to civilians and military alike. Believing that the education, practice, and ethical standards of physiotherapy should be consistent, she worked to co-found a physiotherapy diploma at the University of Toronto. She also worked for the Military School of Orthopaedic Surgery and Physiotherapy during the 1910s. Until her death in 1974 Enid Gordon Graham remained active and committed to the development of physiotherapy in “The Dominion” which included both the US and Canada.

5) Maggie Knott

Maggie Knott became world-famous for practicing and teaching proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. This highly successful treatment that helped treat those mainly suffering from polio or rheumatic fever. PNF techniques developed and taught by Maggie Knott are still in use today. Maggie Knott worked in conjunction with Dorothy Voss to create the first textbook on PNF in 1956. While this book has since had many updates and revisions since 1956, it is still in use today. Maggie Knott also helped to establish postgraduate physiotherapy training institutes that focused on PNF. You can find one of Maggie Knott’s training institutes still in existence today in Vallejo, CA at Kaiser Permanente.

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Brook Phillips