APTA History

Physical therapists formed their first professional association in 1921, called the American Women's Physical Therapeutic Association. Led by President Mary McMillan, an executive committee of elected officers governed the association, which included 274 charter members. In 1922, the association changed its name to the American Physiotherapy Association (APA) and men were admitted. In the 1930s, APA introduced its first "Code of Ethics" and membership grew to just under 1,000.

With the advent of World War II and a nationwide polio epidemic during the 1940s and 1950s, physical therapists were in greater demand than ever before. The association's membership swelled to 8,000 and the number of physical therapy education programs across the US increased from 16 to 39.

By the late 1940s, the association had changed its name to the American Physical Therapy Association, hired a full-time staff, and opened its first office in New York City. A House of Delegates representing chapter members was established to set APTA policies. The House elected a Board of Directors, previously the Executive Committee, to manage the association. In addition, sections were created to promote and develop specific objectives of the profession. The first two sections were the School and Private Practice sections.

In the 1960s, APTA membership reached almost 15,000, and the number of education programs nationwide grew to 52.

Now headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia, APTA represents more than 90,000 members throughout the United States. A national professional organization, APTA's goal is to foster advancements in physical therapy practice, research, and education. Currently 213 institutions offer physical therapy education programs and 309 institutions offer physical therapist assistant education programs in the United States.

Oral Histories

Researching APTA and Physical Therapy History

Archival Photos

History: McMillan Headshot

Mary McMillan, shown wearing her Reconstruction Aide uniform.

History: Reconstruction Aides in NY

Reconstruction Aides, who typically learned military drills prior to being transported to overseas US Army hospitals, on July 4, 1918, in New York.

History: Aides Treating Solders in TX

Reconstruction Aides treat soldiers at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, in 1919.

History: PT Using Aquatic Therapy on Child Patient

A physical therapist uses pool therapy to treat a child with poliomyelitis.

History: Two PTs Using Pool Therapy on Child

Director Janet Merrill (right) and her assistant, Eleanor Gillespie (left), use early pool therapy to treat a youngster with polio at Boston Children's Hospital.

History:  Aides With Two Patients in France

Reconstruction Aides and two recovering patients enjoy a bit of sunshine at Base Hospital #8 in Savenay, France, shortly after Armistice.

History: PTs and Physicians Treating Children in New England

Physical therapists and physicians work together to treat children at a New England poliomyelitis clinic in 1916.

CSM 2016