Elizabeth Kenny

A self-trained Australian Bush nurse, Elizabeth Kenny was famous in the 1930s and 1940s for developing a controversial new approach for treating victims of polio.

Instead of the conventional treatment of placing affected limbs in plaster casts, Kenny applied hot compresses to affected parts of patients bodies followed by passive movement of their limbs. Kenny’s principles of muscle rehabilitation became the foundation of physiotherapy.

In 1940, the NSW government sent Kenny (and her adopted daughter Mary, who had become an expert in Kenny’s method) to America to present her clinical method to American doctors. She ended up staying in Minneapolis for 11 years and during this time several Kenny treatment centres were opened throughout America.

Kenny and her associates cared for thousands of patients throughout the world including actors Alan Alda and Martin Sheen whose childhood polio was treated using the Kenny method.

“At first, I was called a quack, a charlatan, and worse, year after year, in Australia, England and the United States, by men who simply refused to believe that a nurse from ‘the bush’ could devise a treatment which succeeded where they had failed.”