Did You Know … Eunice Ingham, Massage Profession Pioneer

Eunice Ingham (1889-1974) was an intriguing character. She graduated from the Washington School of Massage in 1920 and a few years later entered the Columbia Institute of Physio-Therapy. Physiotherapy was not the separate professional entity it later became; it was common for practitioners to learn both massage and physio and have an integrated practice, either in medical settings or in their own clinics.

Soon after graduating from WSM, Ingham was employed by Joe Riley, an unconventional MD who introduced her to “zone therapy.” Quite popular in this era, zone therapy was developed by Dr. W. H. Fitzgerald. He mapped the body into 10 longitudinal “reflex” zones running from the head to the feet, positing that stimulating anywhere in a zone would benefit other structures in the same zone.

Dr. Riley wrote several books, and with his wife Elizabeth Ann Riley, who developed a technique for applying pressure to zonal tender spots, conducted research and promoted this drugless healing system around the world. The Rileys created increasingly refined reflex zone charts that identified effective spots for stimulating organs and deeper tissues. Zone therapy was taught at CIPT, and Ingham continued working for the Rileys during this time period, quite engaged in their endeavours.

Zone therapy was a full body treatment that incorporated pressure points, vibration and cupping equipment, some Swedish and deep tissue techniques, and joint tractioning. Ingham became particularly interested in the feet, which were seen as especially responsive areas to apply this work. She combined zone therapy principles and specific massage compression techniques into a new treatment paradigm centred on the ankles and feet. She called her system the Ingham Reflex Method of Compression Massage and developed her own detailed charts.

Ingham became more independent, treating patients, researching, and writing books about her subject. As the medical profession began to bear down on zone therapy as “quackery” in the conservative ’40s and ’50s, she coined the term reflexology and positioned her work within natural healing and massage. She obtained a Florida state massage license in 1942 and became a member of the New York State Society of Medical Masseurs, presenting at their conference in 1949. She was a presenter at the inception convention of the American Association of Masseurs and Masseuses in 1946. Her increasingly formal identification with the massage profession was an attempt to practice reflexology under its aegis. It was difficult to be out front as an alternative therapy in this era, and she was fairly wily. Eventually, in 1968, she was charged in New York State with something similar to practicing medicine without a license. The charges were eventually dropped, but Ingham, in her 80s at the time, retired soon after.

Ingham also adopted her own take-it-on-the road style. Beginning after the war ended in 1946, she and her husband Fred Stoffel (depicted receiving a treatment from Eunice), criss-crossed the United States and Canada every summer. Ingham gave lectures, made presentations, taught courses, and sold her charts and other products. They continued for 23 years – Ingham is one of the pioneers of this teaching tradition in the complementary therapy world.

by Debra Curties ’84

Ref: Benjamin PJ. The Emergence of the Massage Therapy Profession in North America. Curties-Overzet Publications, 2015

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