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Remembering Our Past

The first physical therapist arrived in Kentucky in 1935. Within the next few years Mary McDonnell was joined by 15 of her colleagues. They came to fight the crippling effects of polio. They touched the lives of World War II veterans whose bodies were mangled and broken. In 1947, feeling the need to unite and expand their knowledge, they founded the Kentucky Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association. These pioneers could only dream their association, which started with 16 members, would grow to serve over 2,000.

We pay tribute to our founders in the 1997 editions of the KPTA Newsletter and we salute Mary McDonnell, the first therapist in our state. Ms. McDonnell started out at the old Louisville General Hospital, and in 1955, when the average salary of a PT was $4,200 – $6,000, she became Director of Physical Therapy at the Rehabilitation Center (known today as Frazier Rehab Center). Mary served as President of KPTA from 1952-1954 and 1964-1966. She was instrumental in obtaining legislation which licensed our profession in 1958. Her license number was 00002. Mary died in 1989.

There were other individuals who followed Mary. People like Eloise Draper, Melvin Carson, Penny Edlin, Lucy Driver, John Untereker, Agnus Shehan, Betty Cain Rhodes, Nancy Roth, Alma Patton, Jim Hawkins and Caroline Randolph. The majority were located in the Louisville area to work with polio patients. Many were in the military (or had military spouses) and came to Louisville because of its proximity to Fort Knox. Many of the women were registered nurses first and then received their Certification in Physical Therapy after being exposed to rehabilitation during World War II.

KPTA’s first chapter President was John Untereker. He left the profession to become a physician. Our first Vice President was Eloise Draper, who is best remembered as the founder of the education fund which bears her name. She died in 1974. The first chapter Secretary was Nancy Roth. She died very young of a brain tumor and never saw the licensure of her beloved profession. Our first Treasurer was Sarah “Penny” Edlin, who still lives in Louisville and developed Norton Hospital’s Physical Therapy Department. In 1947 there was an elected position of Director, which Mary McDonnell held.
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