Quotes From the Early Years of Occupational Therapy

Credo from the book "Reconstruction Therapy" by Dunton.. Public Domain

Founding and promoting a new profession is no small feat. In the early 1900s, the founders of occupational therapy employed the most powerful tools available to them– writing and rhetoric– to advance the idea that the use of occupation in hospitals could aid in the healing process.

The widespread use of occupational therapy today is a testament to the fruits of their labor.

Their conviction, their soaring rhetoric, and the sheer volume of their writings are worth re-exploring- both to understand the origins of this movement, but also to contemplate what modern issues in healthcare deserve our full efforts in ushering in change.

Parts of the terminology and sentiment are now rightly outdated (invalid, cripple, broken).  Please take them in the context of the time. I picked the following passages for their influence on the course of occupational therapy.

From an Early Book on the Use of Occupations

Studies in Invalid Occupation; a manual for nurses and attendants was written by Susan Tracy, a nurse who taught the value of occupations in hospital care. This early work outlines curative activities and gives a general instruction to nurses.

The book concludes with the following quote about how the simple tool of occupation can impact health– if wielded properly:

The great Goliath was slain by five smooth stones from the brook, but little David knew how to use them; should the giant Despair sit grimly down within our sick-room his stay will be necessarily shorted provided we have learned how to use our stones.

The 9 Cardinal Principles of Occupational Therapy

1918, William Rush Dunton Jr., one of the original founders of occupational therapy, presented these nine principles at the second annual meeting of The National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy.

1. Any activity in which the patient engages should have as its objective a cure.

2. It should be interesting.

3. It should have a useful purpose other than merely to gain the patient’s attention and interest.

4. It should, preferably, lead to an increase in knowledge on the patient’s part.

5. Curative activity should preferably be carried on with others, such as in a group.

6. The occupational therapist should carefully study the patient in  know his or her needs and attempt to meet as many as possible through activity.

7. The therapist should stop the patient in his or her work before reaching a point of fatigue.

8. Encouragement should be genuinely given whenever indicated.

9. Work is preferred over idleness, even when the end product of the patient’s labor is of a poor quality or is useless.

The Goals of American Occupational Therapy Association 

Herbert Hall, though not a founder, was an early proponent of the new profession. Here is an excerpt from an editorial he wrote in 1922 about the goals of the American Occupational Therapy Association:

The association is a responsible, incorporated body with officers of large experience, and active committees encouraging research, collecting data and recommending standards. It seems reasonable to assert that here is a work of national importance, a human reclamation service touching vitally on matters of vast social and economic consequence. Mere encouragement, even placement in industry cannot restore men and women who have not learned through careful bedside training how to use their disabled bodies. The association is literally helping the helpless to help themselves.

An Address to a Gradating Class of Occupational Therapists

Another founder of occupational therapy, Thomas Bessell Kidner, gave this advice to a class of occupational therapy graduates in 1929:

In your chosen field, a part of the noblest work of man– the care and relief of weak and suffering humanity– may you realize in increasing measure the value of certain spiritual things which are the making of life, but which we call by many common names. Kindness, humanity, decency, honor, good faith– to give these up under any circumstances would be a greater loss than any defeat, or even death itself.

The Pledge and Creed for Occupational Therapists

This pledge was submitted by the Boston School of Occupational Therapists and adopted by The American Occupational Therapy Association in 1926:

Reverently and earnestly do I pledge my whole-hearted services in aiding those in my care.

To this end that my work for the sick may be successful, I will strive for greater knowledge, skill, and understanding in the discharge of my duties in whatsoever position I may find myself.

I solemnly declare I will hold and keep whatever I may learn of the lives of sick.

I acknowledge the dignity of the cure of disease and the safe-guarding of human health, in which no act is menial or inglorious.

I will walk in up-right faithfulness and obedience to those under whose guidance I am to work, and I ask for patience, kindliness and strength in the holy ministry to broken minds and bodies.


Hall, H. J (1922). Editorial-American Occupational Therapy Association. Archives of Occupational Therapy, 1, 163-165.

Kidner, T. B. (1929a). Address to graduates. Occupational Therapy and Rehabilitation, 8, 379-385

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