A Recipe for the Body: Chiropractic Medicine in Mexico (Part II)

Jethro Hernández Berrones

 

The presence of chiropractic medicine in Mexico City in the 20th century demonstrates the plural market of medical services available to patients after the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), as introduced in the first entry in this series. In a city where the rate of migration from the rural interior increased and commodities resulting from industrialization abounded, chiropractors offered a therapy that fulfilled the health needs of a varied set of patients. Manipulations resembling those of sobadores appealed to the migrating indigenous and mestizo campesino population, while a foreign novelty with electrical technological devices fit middle-and-upper class sensitivities. How did these chiropractor´s practices look like?

Photographer Enrique Díaz captured the modern facilities of the school in 1932.[1] A three-story art-deco building displays a banner that reads “Quiropráctica” above the main entrance. The photographer captured the population of patients waiting at the internal patio of the building. A musician and a disabled man on a wheel chair stood up amidst a group of around one hundred patients, adult women and men as well as children whose outfits suggest a diverse socio-economic background, perhaps industrial workers, housemaids, drivers, clerks, office assistants, and campesinos, among other working- and middle-class occupations. One consulting room contains an X-ray machine in the corner and two chiropractic tables made of metal and leather cushions and with several levers and pistons to accommodate different patient bodies’ sizes and positions. Diplomas, yearbook photographs, the cartography of the spinal cord’s nervous connections with other bodily organs, a sink, a bookcase and a desk suggest patients had their first medical encounter with a professional chiropractor. Once diagnosed they visited the second room. This room’s photograph displays ten chiropractic tables for massage on top of which ten patients, three women and seven men, lie with their torso uncovered in order to have their spine manipulated by ten chiropractors, two of them women, wearing a white gown. Manlio Fuentes observes from a stand between the two rows of tables as to evaluate the performance of the chiropractic students; two women, perhaps patients´ family members wearing pricy coats, observe with a curious smile in their faces.

The photograph suggested an ordered, disciplined, and efficient school that provided students with hands-on experiences on hundreds of patients who came to the school for bodily relieve. The view contrasted with the goal to sanitize medical practice of post-revolutionary governments. After the violent phase of the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917), reformers implemented public health policies to bring adequate medical services to the population. In the 1920s and 30s, politicians, public health officers, education experts, and health practitioners of all extractions, including allopaths, homeopaths, chiropractors, midwives, nurses, dentists, and pharmacists mobilized resources to promote medical education and services. They also came together to design policy and law that ensured Mexicans received services from adequately trained practitioners. Ambivalent and contradictory attitudes spotted the cultural landscape of healthcare in Mexico. Commercial efforts to promote new medicines, nutritional supplements, and therapeutic approaches challenged regulatory policies. Nationalists, scientists, and upper-class actors regarded with suspicion medical systems that came from abroad, that the academic medical community distrusted, and that used the popular press to advertise their services and reach a wider audience. Among their target was chiropractic medicine.

A year after Montaño and Fuentes founded the chiropractic school and association, the Ministry of Public Health prescribed the 1928 Sanitary Code to ensure all doctors, including chiropractors, aligned under the same medical curriculum in order to fix the national medical body. The Ministry did not allow doctors to certify their degrees if they had not graduated from reputable national or foreign institutions, or passed a certification test with the National University. Without this certification, physicians’ publicity became a threat against a healthy city and illegal under the new code. The welcoming environment that the first chiropractors had found in Mexico had turned against them. Montaño and Fuentes raised their complaints to President Portes Gil in 1929.[2] They argued that liberal United States had regulated chiropractic medicine as a “special method for health recovery” and that they had followed the same steps of American chiropractors to professionalize the practice in Mexico.[3] Mexican chiropractors had founded the association and opened the school with the same curriculum as Palmer’s school in Davenport, Iowa, and with the schooling prerequisites required by law for professional schools in Mexico. The chiropractors sustained that their medicine was different from allopathy and homeopathy, because it did not prescribe drugs, and that it resembled more closely massage therapists and physical culture instructors, who were not required a license to practice. An exceptional healing practice required specific regulations. They therefore requested government acknowledgement of the legal status of the chiropractic school and its diplomas.

Figure 3. First license for chiropractic medicine in Mexico. Taken from Jospeh C. Keating, “Notes on the Chiropractic Health Bureau/ICA,” National Institute of Chiropractic Research, April 5, 2016, p. 32.

However, on a December-18, 1933-afternoon in Mexico, an anonymous chiropractor defending the liberal practice of medicine raised his voice in Congress to support the legal existence of homeopathy in the country.[4] He said “we do not oppose to the existence of homeopathy because we do not know where truth lies or who is closer to it. Modern Biology has not been able to tell us in spite of all its efforts. Both schools [referring to homeopathy and allopathy] heal, both have adepts, and therefore both should exist.” The anonymous chiropractor had a stake in this discussion. In spite of Montaño and Fuentes’ efforts four years earlier, both the Ministry of Public Education and the Department of Public Health considered chiropractic practice a threat to the rights of Mexicans to adequate health services and denied certification of chiropractic diplomas in the 1930s and 40s.[5] Alongside other medical unions and associations that grouped homeopaths, free school graduates, unlicensed practitioners, and regular doctors, chiropractors fought in the early 1930s to pass a law of professions that acknowledged their school, diplomas, and practice.[6] It was in this context that the anonymous chiropractor raised his voice. The weight of his words and chiropractors’ actions led politicians to include the recognition of chiropractic training and degrees in the drafts of the professional law, though the final 1943 Law of Professions did not. A resolution in 1955 and a different political environment allowed chiropractors who had obtained diplomas in a foreign university not included in the 1943 law to certify and revalidate their degree.[7] Francisco B. Montaño Luna was the first chiropractor to obtain a license, though from a school with a different name, the “Libre I[instituto] de Quiroprácticos”, followed by his son (fig. 3 and 4).[8]

Fig. 4. Francisco Montaño Pizarro. Personal archives of Francisco Montaño Benet.

In contrast to the policies to regulate medicines that aimed at identifying the specific ingredients in nostrums in the early twentieth century, the recipe to sanitize the Mexican medical body rendered chiropractic medicine invisible to historical memory. In the last few decades, a change in the scope of medical history has made room to hear the voices of practitioners, such as chiropractors, whose soothing hands kept the bodies of Mexican workers fit to build a nation. I hope the historian who undertakes such a project also includes the oral histories of the many empirical masseurs and bonesetters. Without academic training but with keen observational skills, they learned the skills from more experienced sobadores or hueseros. They, like my grandfather in rural Veracruz, kept the bodies of family members and their communities healthy, up to the twentieth first century (fig. 5).  

Fig. 5. Chiropractic clinic. Personal archives of Francisco Montaño Benet.

 

References:

[1] Fototeca nacional, colección Enrique Díaz, caja 43, subcaja 4, Quiropráctica 1932.

[2] Fuentes and Montaño, ibid, p. 4-6.

[3] Fuentes and Montaño, ibid, p. 4-6. The Archive of the National Schoool of Medicine holds letters from Floyd A. Ozburn to the Mexican College of Chiropractic informing the status of chiropractic in the United States. Fondo Escuela Nacional de Medicina y alumnus, legajo 302, expediente 8, folios 1-15.

[4] Alvaro Bazan, “La verdad es la verdad”, El universal gráfico, December 27, 1933.

[5] Fuentes and Montaño, ibid, p. 7-10.

[6] “Índice del expediente formado por la Cámara de Diputados, con motivo de la reglamentación del artículo 4º constitucional”, Archivo Histórico de la Secretaría de Salud, colección Salubridad Pública, sección Servicio Jurídico, caja 22, expediente 13.

[7] “Chiropractic recognized in Mexico” ICA International Review of Chiropractic 10, 3 (September, 1955), p. 16; Jospeh C. Keating, “Notes on the Chiropractic Health Bureau/ICA” National Institute of Chiropractic Research, April 5, 2016, https://chiro.org/Plus/History/Persons/ChiroHealthBureau/CHB_ICA_Chronology.PDF

[8] Francisco Montaño Luna, “Letter to the editor” ICA International Review of Chiropractic 10, 8 (February, 1956), p. 31; Jospeh C. Keating, ibid.


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