History of Physical Therapy: 1915 – Present

First Class of 1915

Physical Thearpy History
Marguerite Sanderson

Pioneers in Physical Therapy Education

Northeastern University’s program in physical therapy is the oldest in the country, tracing its roots back to World War I. In 1918, Ms. Marguerite Sanderson organized World War I emergency courses for reconstruction aides in physical therapy for the army hospitals. At the Boston School of Physical Education (BSPE) founded in 1913, the precursor to the Bouvé College program in Physical Therapy, three groups of students were trained in six-week courses prior to their deployment. These “war courses” trained women who were then known as medical therapists, and this curriculum would form the foundation of what would later be known as physiotherapy.

Majorie Bouve

The Twenties: From BSPE to the Bouvé School

During the 1920s, Marjorie Bouvé petitioned the Massachusetts Board of Education for the authority to grant degrees, as it was apparent that schools must offer degrees to be competitive, not merely diplomas. In 1923, the school partnered for a period of time with Boston University to offer students a degree. In 1924, Ms. Marjorie Bouvé left her position as Director of BSPE to found the Bouvé School, which was incorporated in 1925. Mary Florence Stratton became the Director of BSPE. In the BSPE’s three-year curriculum allowed students to choose to specialize either in physical education or physical therapy. The school enrolled 28 students into its three- year program that fall. In 1927, Ms. Esther Klein was named the first PT Department Chair. In 1929, Ms. Ruth Page Sweet was named Dean of the Bouvé School. Ms. Sweet served as dean from 1929–1946 when she was appointed administrative director. The school was accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association in 1930 and has maintained full accreditation status since that time. The school received its most recent accreditation in fall of 2013. The next accreditation is scheduled for 2023.

Ruth Page Sweet
Bouve Tufts

The Thirties and Forties: Beginning of our Commitment to Global Learning

In 1935, the Boston Bouvé School of Physical Education (BBSPE) began a cultural exchange program with Japan, promoting global awareness and demonstrating a commitment to cultural diversity. Today, we
continue this commitment to global learning with physical therapy student exchange programs to Switzerland, global service learning opportunities to Costa Rica, South Africa and Ecuador as well as traditional semesters abroad and global dialogues.

In 1942, BBSPE affiliated with Tufts University phasing in a four-year degree for all students and a specialized degree for physical therapy. Between 1943-1945 in response to World War II, emergency courses were organized. At BBSPE, three classes received six months of course work followed by six months as apprentice aides in Army hospitals.

Pinning Ceremony

The Fifties and Sixties: Early Recognition of Professionalism in Physical Therapy

In 1955, Bouvé Physical Therapy recognizes students with the program’s first Physical Therapy Pinning Ceremony. This tradition has continued and has evolved into a Pinning and Hooding Ceremony for doctoral students in physical therapy. In 1961, the first Bachelor of Science degrees in Physical Therapy are conferred.

Early Pursuit of Graduate Education in Physical Therapy

In 1981 Bouvé offers Advanced Master’s programs in Cardiopulmonary and Neurological Physical Therapy. In 1995, the Entry-level MS degree program is approved in Physical Therapy and in1997, Bouvé graduates the first cohort of entry-level Master of Physical Therapy. In 2009, Bouvé graduates the first entry level Doctor of Physical Therapy Students.

Honoring Our Roots

In 2013, Northeastern University Bouvé College, Department of Physical Therapy receives a new name. To honor our roots in movement science and physical therapy and to embrace new endeavors in movement and rehabilitation sciences (e.g., Master degree in Ergonomics and Worker Wellness), the university accepted the faculty petition to change our Department name to the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences. As a cornerstone of Bouvé College of Health Sciences, the Department of Physical Therapy, Movement and Rehabilitation Sciences continues to be the only US accredited physical therapy program to offer cooperative education in physical therapy and in addition to physical therapy clinical internships, providing students with a minimum of 6 months (freshman entry students participate in one year) of cooperative education as well as 36 weeks of clinical internship.