Physical Therapist Florence P. Kendall

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 5, 2006

Florence Peterson Kendall, who had a 75-year career as one of the country's most influential physical therapists and educators and who is in the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame, died Jan. 28 at Sunrise of Severna Park, an assisted living center. Mrs. Kendall, 95, had cancer.

Mrs. Kendall became a physical therapist in the early 1930s, when the field was in its infancy. With her husband, Henry O. Kendall, she practiced in Baltimore for many years, wrote a textbook that remains a standard work in the field and helped gain official recognition for physical therapy as a licensed profession in Maryland. She also consulted with the Army about exercises for soldiers.

In 2004, a survey of American Physical Therapy Association members named Mrs. Kendall the third most influential person in the history of the profession and the highest ranking American. She was the author of eight books, including five editions of "Muscles: Testing and Function With Posture and Pain," which has been translated into eight languages since it was first published in 1949. Its most recent edition came out last year.

She delivered hundreds of lectures across the country, led countless seminars and was considered a role model for generations of physical therapists. She continued working until her death.

Mrs. Kendall, who was born May 5, 1910, grew up on a farm near Mora, Minn., and was a high school physical education teacher after her graduation from the University of Minnesota. She came to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in 1931 to further her interest in therapeutic work.

In 1933, she attended a lecture at Children's Hospital in Baltimore, given by her future husband, already a well-known figure in the field. She soon joined his practice at the Baltimore hospital, and they were married in 1935. Out of professional habit, she referred to her husband as "Mr. Kendall" in public throughout her life.

They wrote several pamphlets on the treatment of polio patients, and in 1936 produced a five-reel film demonstrating methods of care. From 1943 until 1961, they taught body mechanics at the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. Mrs. Kendall also taught at the University of Maryland School of Medicine from 1957 until 1971.

In the 1940s, she was supervisor of physical therapy for the Maryland State Department of Health, specializing in polio patients.

"It was a very difficult time because nobody knew what caused polio," she said in a 2000 interview with PT -- Magazine of Physical Therapy. "After treating children with polio at the hospital all day, we didn't know if we were exposing our own children to the disease."

At that time, physical therapy was not a licensed specialty. The Kendalls helped draft a bill that established standards and licensing procedures for physical therapists in the state. It was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in 1947.

In 1952, the Kendalls opened one of the first private physical therapy practices in the country, and within a year their Baltimore clinic had more than 1,300 patients. Through books and speaking engagements, they became nationally known in their field.

"We were not on the road to riches but had the great reward of being able to help patients," Mrs. Kendall said. "And the opportunity to help patients was the reason we became physical therapists."

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