The Taylor Brothers Bring Massage to the USA

GeorgeHerman Taylor; (or is it George Herbert Taylor – there seems to be a bit of confusion among various sources). So let’s just go with George H. Taylor for now and leave it at that. George H. was born on January 4, 1821 in Williston, Vermont. As a youth, he did not attend school and was substantially self-taught.

Impressively, he became an educator himself before the age of 18. This self-educated man was appointed to be Williston’s first superintendent of schools.

George suffered from a myriad of incomprehensible and therefore untreatable ailments before the age of 21. These ailments are evidently the catalyst leading to his research and thus to study at the medical department of Harvard. He graduated from the New York Medical College in 1852 and started practicing at a hydropathic institution called the New York City Water Cure before establishing his own practice in 1853.

A most significant point that this research has noted regarding George’s journey is that,  early on, he took exception to an uncanny belief that a woman’s body is very susceptible  to disease. He was determined to challenge this belief and eventually authored the book An Original Work on Diseases of Women, finding no evidence supporting this dogma.

George’s brother, Charles Fayette Taylor, was born on April 25, 1827, also in Williston, Vermont. Not having the same incentives as his brother, Charles began pursuing medicine at the age of 28. He studied at the medical department of the University of Vermont and graduated in 1856. After graduation, Charles went to London to continue his education. He received private lessons on Swedish Movement Gymnastics from Mathias Roth.

Roth, an English physician who is recognized for writing the first book in English regarding the Swedish Movements, had studied the techniques at the Royal Central Institute under Per Henrik Ling. He translated some of Ling’s works into English and founded the first Swedish Movements Institute in England. The passive movements of Ling’s Swedish Movement regime were the manipulations that we now use in massage, such as effleurage (stroking), petrissage (kneading), tapotement (striking), and frictions (rubbing). Roth wrote: “kneading increases the nutrition, retroformation and the circulation of blood in the muscular substance, and other tender parts…”

Charles Taylor, upon returning to New York, was the first to introduce the Swedish Movement methods to the United States. Settling in New York, he became a specialist in Orthopedics and established the New York Orthopedic Dispensary and Hospital, remaining there as a surgeon until 1876.

George Taylor had been in practice for a while prior to his induction in the Swedish Movements. He had created his own exercise therapy for women before hearing of institutions in Stockholm, Sweden using like methods. George wanted to observe these techniques for himself and traveled to the Dr. Sotherberg Institute in Stockholm, where he then completed the Swedish Movements training.

Both brothers were also authors and inventors. George created various types of exercise equipment and mechanical massage devices. He authored An Exposition of the Swedish Movement-Cure, Embracing the History and Philosophy of this System of Medical Treatment, with Examples of Single Movements, and Directions for Their Use in Various Forms of Chronic Disease, Forming a Complete Manual of Exercises, together with a summary of the principles of general hygiene (New York, 1860) among many other pieces of literature; including case histories describing the positive health results produced by massage in the treatment of disease and for its benefits on general health. This research discovered that Mark Twain’s wife, Livy, sought treatment at George’s practice and she greatly improved under his care.

Charles created a myriad of orthopedic devices to cure such maladies as club-foot, hip disease and spinal deviations, including “the Taylor Brace” for Potts disease. It appears that Theodore Roosevelt’s father assisted in the establishment of Charles’ dispensary because his daughter, the president’s sister, was a victim of Potts disease. Charles received medals for his inventions at international exhibitions in Vienna and Philadelphia. Charles is the author of numerous medical papers on orthopedic deformities as well as emotional and mental health illnesses. He also published articles on the Swedish Movements in the New York medical journals and authored The Theory and Practice of the Movement-Cure (Philadelphia, 1861).

Also of interest, Charles’ grandson, Charles Fayette Taylor (1894-1996), was a pioneer of internal combustion engines and had a strong interest in aviation. He worked for the Wright Brothers and developed the engine for the Spirit of St. Louis, the first airplane to fly nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean.

The contributions of the two brothers were very widespread. Upon their return to the United States, they worked together at Georges’ Remedial Hygienic Institute, which later came to be known as the Improved Movement Cure Institute, incorporating exercise, massage and hydrotherapy. The two brothers remained together for less than a year but continued the practice and promotion of the Swedish Movements until their deaths in 1899.

By the late 19th century, numerous books had been published, describing in detail and with illustrations, the movements that we now know as Swedish massage, which promotes relaxation and increases circulation. When the general public thinks of massage, they are normally thinking about Swedish massage, also known as “therapeutic massage,” the most common form of massage in the United States.

George and Charles Taylor seemed to be very compassionate physicians, truly interested in improving the health of the population. They had a real passion for finding not only a cure, but a holistic one. George H. Taylor said it best in his book An Exposition of the Swedish Movement-Cure (New York, 1860): “To do what he can to encourage and assist people in a rational endeavor to acquire and maintain an intelligent control of their entire physiological being – to bring into and keep in healthful and effective play all the complex machinery of their organism, has been the sole aim of the writer in this work.”