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Sutherland graduated from The American College of Osteopathy in 1900 with honours. He was then twenty-seven years old. Osteopathy was not his first calling. He was born on 27th March 1873, the second of four children of Robert and Dorinda Sutherland. Robert worked as a blacksmith and lumberjack. By the age of fourteen William had already left school to help with the family finances. He went to work in the local newspaper, “The Blunt Advertiser”. When, shortly afterwards, the publisher left to join another newspaper he wanted William to go with him. Several other moves followed until in 1895 he went to Austin in Minnesota, to The Austin Daily Herald. It was here that he first heard about Dr Still and his new cure, Osteopathy.

William’s younger brother, Guy, suffered a health problem from which he recovered after receiving osteopathic treatment. William was hooked. In 1898 he enrolled in the, then, two year course in Osteopathy. While still a student he was examining the bones of a disarticulated skull and noted the bevelled edges to the sphenoid bones, when the thought “bevelled like the gills of a fish, to allow for respiration” first struck him. Although he dismissed the thought, it would continue to recur until he felt compelled to investigate it further.

After graduating, Dr Sutherland, as he now was, opened his office in a room of his parent’s house, and quickly built up a successful practise. Soon he was able to rent his own office. In 1907 Sutherland became president of the Minnesota State Osteopathic Association. He started to lecture on health issues, some of which were published. In the meantime he continued to study the cranium. However, it was not until 1924 that Sutherland started to set about gaining some proof for his theory. He had married for the second time and on his honeymoon he had attended the annual conference of The American Osteopathic Association. Perhaps it was this that inspired him to start buying equipment he would need for his experiments.

At that time , William, like all other British and American physicians , was taught that the joints in bones of the skull became fused together in adolescence and, therefore, incapable of movement from that time forward. Physicians trained in Mainland Europe were taught that cranial bone movement continued throughtout life. William’s examination of the twenty-two bones that make up the human skull convinced him that they were designed to accommodate movement. And as he believed that nature never did anything without a reason, he determined to test the theory he had been taught. He needed first hand experience, so who better to experiment on than himself.

He devised a helmet which was capable of restricting individual cranial bones. He reasoned that if they were already restricted by fusion, he should feel no difference, so he started a series of experiments on himself. He carried with him a notebook to record any possible symptoms. He also engaged the services of his wife to note any changes in temperament that might escape his attention.

In his first experiment he nearly lost consciousness and released the pressure. Immediately he felt warmth and fluid movement along his spine and also movement in the sacrum, the big triangular bone at the base of the spine. He repeated the experiment several times with the same result. This supported the conclusion that, not only did the cranial bones move, but the sacrum also through the connecting membranes. He continued with his experiments and with clinical practise based on them and was able to achieve considerable clinical success with his patients.

He extended his research to children and particularly to new born babies and the restrictions that were imposed by the birthing process. He continued to write and talk about his cranial concept over the following years but there appeared to be little interest shown by the orthodox profession. In 1939 Sutherland published his only written work, apart from his articles in various journals, which he called The Cranial Bowl. This was a relatively small volume designed to attract the interest of the practitioners of orthodox medicine rather than a textbook explaining his methods.

In the 1940’s, The American School of Osteopathy started a course called Osteopathy in the cranial field, directed by Dr Sutherland. The clinical success he was having by treating the cranial bones was at last attracting the attention of some member of the orthodox medical profession, who wanted to learn his methods. As the popularity of the course grew, Dr Sutherland had to train more teachers to cope with the demand. Among the first of these were: Viola Fryman, Rollin Becker, Anne Wales, Howard lippincot and many more that went on to promote and teach Sutherland’s work.