Polio Place

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Florence Peterson Kendall

Born: May 5, 1910
Died: January 28, 2006

Major Contribution:

Florence Peterson Kendall, PT, FAPTA, had a 75-year career as the United States’ foremost and influential physical therapist and is considered the “mother” of physical therapy. Florence and her husband, Henry O. Kendall, also a physical therapist, spent many years treating polio patients at Children's Hospital in Baltimore. At that time, physical therapy was not a licensed specialty, and the Kendalls were instrumental in the passing of a bill that established standards and licensing procedures for physical therapists in Maryland in 1947.

Also in the 1940s, she was supervisor of physical therapy for the Maryland State Department of Health, specializing in polio patients. Her book “Muscles, Testing and Function” has become the “gold standard” textbook for students and practitioners in various medical and allied health fields. This work has been translated into eight foreign languages.

Other Information:

Florence Peterson was born in Warman, Minnesota, on May 5, 1910, the eleventh child of Swedish immigrants, who were farmers. She became a high school physical education teacher after her graduation from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor of Science Degree. She chose Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1931 to further her interest in therapeutic work, but was laid off after a year and moved to Children’s Hospital in Baltimore.

She saw her first polio patient at the Children’s Hospital. The boy was under the care of the noted physical therapist Henry O. Kendall. On May 5, 1933, Florence and some of her colleagues visited Children’s Hospital to hear Henry deliver a lecture and they met face-to-face. Florence began working under Henry Kendall's direction in July 1933. They were married in1935.

The polio patient population remained an important focus of their work, especially in the 1930s and ‘40s. They co-authored U.S. Public Health pamphlets based on their studies of muscle evaluation and treatment procedures for polio patients.

In 1947, they authored an important article, "Orthopedic and Physical Therapy Objectives in Poliomyelitis Treatment," that appeared in The Physiotherapy Review.

Together they published a companion title “Posture and Pain” in 1952, in which they reported on their study of 12,000 cases to illustrate and diagnose numerous diseases and other painful conditions associated with faulty body mechanics and alignment. They also co-authored “Care During the Recovery Period in Paralytic Poliomyelitis”, Public Health Bulletin No. 242, Revised 1939. Their earliest publications also included 16 mm demonstration films.

Florence and Henry held faculty positions at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins University for decades.

Florence was a founding member of the American Physical Therapy Association of Maryland and was its president 1939-41 and 1957-59. She served on the Maryland State Board of Physical Therapy Examiners.

She served on President John F. Kennedy's council on physical fitness, which established exercise standards for schoolchildren. From 1981 until 1995, she was a consultant to the surgeon general of the Army and helped design exercise regimens for military training. She was the author of eight books.

When Henry retired in 1971, Florence became a traveling educator and mentor, particularly to women. She delivered hundreds of lectures across the country, led countless seminars and was a role model for generations of physical therapists. The Henry O. and Florence P. Kendall Award was established as a way for the APTA of Maryland to honor its members for outstanding contributions to the field of physical therapy.

Florence, who remained vigorous until near the end of her life, was often asked how she remained fit. Her daughters laughed and said their mother had a simple answer: "Stand up straight and pull in your stomach."

She continued working until her death in 2006 after a battle with cancer. Henry preceded her in death in 1979.

Location of Papers: Kendall donated her books to the University of Maryland's Health and Human Services Library. The Kendall Historical Collection was dedicated in 2000.

Description of Papers: In addition to her textbooks, the Kendall Historical Collection represents a wide range of texts by American, French and German clinical and medical authors. These includes many first edition historical (some dating back to the 19th century) seminal texts on the study of muscles, therapeutic exercise, physiology of motion, electro-therapeutics, body mechanics for health, anatomy, orthopedics and scoliosis, and hand surgery.

August 2011/Carol K. Elliott/Post-Polio Health International

Major Articles: Florence Peterson Kendall


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